Kiki Smith is a New York-based contemporary artist whose artwork branches across disciplines, depicting the female nude and the natural world through printmaking, sculpture, books, drawings, and textiles. Her powerful, imaginative compositions have been shown around the world, notably at the Venice Biennale five times throughout her four-decade career.Read More
Smith was born in Nuremberg, Germany to American parents: Minimalist sculptor Tony Smith and actress and opera singer Jane Lawrence. The family soon moved to South Orange, New Jersey. Smith is typically described as a 'self-taught' artist—she began her studies at Hartford Art School in Connecticut in 1974 but dropped out a year and a half later.
In 1976, Smith relocated to New York City and became involved in the contemporary art scene there. In 1978, she joined Collaborative Projects, Inc. (Colab), an activist artist collective.
Following the death of her father and sister, actress Bebe Smith, in 1980 and 1988, Kiki Smith was inspired to centre her practice around the human body. She took this interest to a deeper level by studying to become an emergency medical technician. Beyond the body, her work became increasingly complex via artistic explorations of sex, birth, death and decay, gender, and the human relationship to nature.
Kiki Smith's art explores themes relating to the female body, nature and sexuality through printmaking, sculpture, books, drawings, and textiles.
Smith's artwork is heavily influenced by her Catholic upbringing. The early work Hand in Jar (1983), for example, explores themes of decay and corporeality whilst reminding one of a reliquary. A sculpted latex hand rests submerged in a Mason jar, with algae indicating decomposition and a return to nature.
More explicit religious references are present in Smith's bronze sculptures of Biblical women, such as Lilith and Mary Magdalene (both 1994). In these and other female nudes, Smith reclaims the portrayal of the female nude. Lilith is installed crouching on a wall, her body hidden, while the surface of Mary Magdalene is roughly rendered, save for her face, breasts, and the area around her navel. Another sculptural work Untitled (1990) features a beeswax man and woman hanging limply, as if crucified, whilst semen and breast milk drip from their bodies.
Smith has also produced many works on paper, and she is particularly notable for her prints. The 1999 series 'Blue Prints' saw Smith experiment with aquatint and drypoint to create images of femininity, childhood, and fantasy. Many of these prints incorporate animal imagery, such as Wolf Girl (1999). Wolves as well as birds have been a frequent source of inspiration for Smith.
In a series of drawings from 2000 to 2002, which include Lying with the Wolf (2001), Smith explores women's relationships with wolves and other animals through images inspired by mythology and fairy tales. Earlier works on paper such as Free Fall (1994) focus on the female body. This photoetching is similar to Lilith in its closed rendering of the body, challenging the sexualised perception of the female nude.
Kiki Smith has produced a number of temporary and permanent works for public spaces. In 2005 Smith completed Seer (Alice II), a six-foot bronze statue of Lewis Carroll's Alice from Alice in Wonderland, for the lawn in front of the new Northwestern Mutual Life (NML) Insurance building in New Haven Connecticut. In 2012 Smith installed Chorus, featuring a pearl-draped Josephine Baker among a constellation of stained-glass stars, in an empty lot near Manhattan's theatre district. She also completed the stainless steel sculpture Refuge, for Dartmouth College, in Hannover New Hampshire in 2012.
Kiki Smith's awards include the International Sculpture Center Lifetime Achievement Award (2016); the U.S. Department of State Medal of the Arts (2013); Nelson A. Rockefeller Award, Purchase College of the Arts (2010); Edward MacDowell Medal (2009); Athena Award for Excellence in Printmaking, Rhode Island School of the Arts (2005); and the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture (2000).
Smith was recognised as part of the 'TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World' by TIME Magazine in 2006. She has also been elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2017, she was recognised as a Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
On Ocula, the artist is represented by Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris, Krakow Witkin Gallery, and Pace Gallery. Recent exhibitions include From Inside, Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris (2021); Solo Exhibition, Krakow Witkin Gallery, Boston (2020); and Light, Pace Gallery, Geneva (2020).
Rachel Kubrik | Ocula | 2022
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