Best known for her provocative depictions of the human form, Kiki Smith has explored a range of subjects, from natural science to mythology. By turns intimate, universal, earthy, and fragile, her art renders the figure in frank, nonheroic terms, expressing its dual aspects of vulnerability and strength. Comprising more than 125 works, this Walker-organized 25-year survey reveals the startling symbolic potential in Smith’s choice of both traditional and unexpected materials in sculpture and also features prints, drawings, photographs, editioned objects, films, and installations.
The human body—both in anatomical fragments and in full figure—is at the heart of Smith’s art. “I think I chose it as a subject because it is the one form that we all share,” she says. “It’s something that everybody has their own authentic experience with.” Her earliest works investigated its form and functions, which she articulated through individual parts, suggesting flesh with delicate handmade papers and fashioning internal organs and systems from fragile materials such as glass, papier-mâché, terra-cotta, and plaster. In the early nineties, she gained widespread attention for her life-size figures in wax and bronze depicting naked female bodies in disturbing, visceral poses.
Smith’s work has long addressed the ambiguous and difficult relationship between female artists and feminist issues. In the mid-nineties, she began to engage with themes from literature, history, and folklore, reinterpreting biblical and mythological women as inhabitants of resolutely physical bodies. More recently, her vocabulary has expanded to include animals, the cosmos, and the natural world: “My work has evolved from minute particles within the body, up through the body, and landed outside the body. Now I want to roam around the landscape.” In pieces that merge human and animal, she creates new mythologies, finding in the mortality that has pervaded so much of her process the possibility of rebirth. In her art, Smith has staged a persistent inquiry that has resulted in works of uncommon power and beauty, inviting us to reexamine ourselves, our history, and our place in the world.
Curator: Siri Engberg