b. 1954, Germany

Kiki Smith Biography

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.

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Early Years

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 Artworks

Kiki Smith's art explores themes relating to the female body, nature and sexuality through printmaking, sculpture, books, drawings, and textiles.

Kiki Smith Sculpture and Catholicism

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.

Prints and Drawings

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.

Public Commissions

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.

Awards and Accolades

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

Kiki Smith, Sungrazer VIII (2019) (detail). © Kiki Smith. Courtesy Pace Gallery. 

Kiki Smith Featured Artworks

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Minou by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork sculpture
Kiki Smith Minou, 2021 Bronze and 14k yellow gold
26.7 x 48.3 x 27.9 cm
Pace Gallery
Sungrazer VII by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork sculpture
Kiki Smith Sungrazer VII, 2019 Bronze
279.4 x 121.9 x 121.9 cm
Pace Gallery
Sunrise, Sunset by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork sculpture
Kiki Smith Sunrise, Sunset, 2016 Aluminium
46.8 x 28.1 x 18 cm
Tristan Hoare Gallery Contact Gallery
Presentation by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, drawing
Kiki Smith Presentation, 2016 Crayon and coloured pencil on paper
435 x 52 cm
Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris Contact Gallery
Avebury Drawing (Foot) by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Kiki Smith Avebury Drawing (Foot), 1995 Pencil and chalk on paper
50 x 63 cm
Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris Contact Gallery
Still by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork sculpture
Kiki Smith Still, 2012 Bronze
31.8 x 35.6 cm
Pace Gallery
Phantom by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork sculpture
Kiki Smith Phantom, 2016 Bronze
46.7 x 62.2 x 15.2 cm
Pace Gallery
Everywhere by Kiki Smith contemporary artwork mixed media
Kiki Smith Everywhere, 2017 Ink and leaf on Nepalese paper
183 x 142.2 cm
Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke Contact Gallery

Kiki Smith Current Exhibitions

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Kiki Smith Represented By

Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, USA
Pace Gallery East Hampton, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles +4

Kiki Smith In Ocula Magazine

Kiki Smith In Related Press

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