Collections> Browse Kiki Smith

Collections> Browse Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith
Holdings (18)
2 multiples, 5 edition prints/proofs, 1 videotapes/videodisc, 6 books, 1 multimedium, 1 sculpture, 1

Wikipedia About Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith is an American artist classified as a feminist artist, a movement with beginnings in the 20th century. Her Body Art is imbued with political significance, undermining the traditional erotic representations of women by male artists, and often exposes the inner biological systems of females as a metaphor for hidden social issues. Her work also often includes the themes of birth and regeneration, as well as sustenance, and frequently has Catholic allusions. Smith has also been active in debate over controversies such as AIDS, gender, race, and battered women. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Kiki Smith, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Since she emerged in the early 1980s, Kiki Smith has been a fascinating and inventive presence. Her provocative meditations on the human body and the realms of myth, spirituality, nature, and narrative have resulted in works of extraordinary power and uncommon beauty. Smith’s attitude toward working methods and materials is decidedly nonhierarchical. She has explored an eclectic array of media, including sculpture, multimedia installations, prints, drawings, photographs, multiples, artist’s books, and film and video works. Her influences are rich, from Edgar Degas to Eadweard Muybridge to Lewis Carroll, and her work falls in the lineage of artists such as Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Carolee Schneemann, and Nancy Spero, all of whom advanced feminist ideas in their work.

Born in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1954, Smith and her family returned to the United States in 1955 to reside in New Jersey. Art was central to her childhood: her grandfather had been an altar carver; her mother was an actor; her father, sculptor Tony Smith, encouraged her participation in his work; and family friends included Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Despite these influences, it would be years before she would consider herself an artist in her own right. In 1976, after a brief enrollment at the Hartford Art School, she settled in New York City and turned to art wholeheartedly.

Her work in the early 1980s was concerned with themes of mortality and regeneration—a response, in part, to her father’s death and to the rapidly growing AIDS crisis.1 In the years that followed, she began to develop an elaborate visual vocabulary around the forms and functions of the human body and its metaphorical and physical relationship to society. Her visceral sculptures in plaster, paper, and wax as well as intricately constructed drawings of ink and collaged paper explored the body both as a whole and as fragments, internal and external.

Banshee Pearls, a tour de force print series made in 1991, shows Smith’s dual interest in the body and narrative. The work is a fragmented self-portrait, a quiltlike composition of twelve printed sheets. Most of the imagery derives from photographs and photocopies of the artist’s face, transferred in positive and negative, in a range of scales and orientations.2 Also woven through the work are childhood photographs and enlarged details of body parts, such as hair and teeth. Prior to printing, the artist embellished the lithographic plates with her own drawings and gestures, resulting in a remarkably personal, almost diaristic work with a powerful presence.

By the mid-1990s, Smith was engaged with themes of a more religious and mythological nature, creating sculptural works related to the imagined physical bodies of such biblical figures as the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Lilith. More recently, she has considered fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood), legends, (the French tale of Sainte Geneviève), and stories (Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Underground of 1864) as subject matter, and has developed a growing menagerie of work concerned with animals and natural phenomena. Her fascinatingly varied body of work has established her as a virtuoso printmaker, an explorer of the startling possibilities of paper, and a reinventor of figurative bronze sculpture. Above all, she is an artist who revels in an exploration of the human condition.

  1. Smith’s underground reputation in New York in the early 1980s grew alongside her involvement with the artists’ collective Collaborative Projects, Inc. (Colab) and exhibitions of her work at such alternative spaces as the Kitchen, where she presented her first solo exhibition in 1982.

  2. This print was made in collaboration with Universal Limited Art Editions, a workshop with which Smith has forged a long and productive relationship. For a discussion of her activities in printmaking throughout her career, see Wendy Weitman, Kiki Smith: Prints, Books and Things, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2003).

Engberg, Siri. “Kiki Smith.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center