A few weeks ago I invited a friend to the exhibition opening preview part for Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, and this friend’s first response was, “Who’s he?”
“Kiki’s a girl,” I reply.
“Well, what does she do?”
“She works in sculpture mostly – but really super-fantastic sculpture. There are lots of bodies and fluids and fairytales. It will rock. So, you wanna go?”
True to form, Kiki didn’t disappoint and I had a fabulous time wandering through the galleries of this – her first major retrospective ever organized in the U.S.
Born, 2002, bronze Courtesy the artist and PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York
Photograph by Kerry Ryan McFate
The following day was a conversation between Kiki and much-beloved art critic and writer, Peter Schjeldahl. It was interesting to hear Kiki expound on the role of narrative – or the non-narrative, as it happens – in her work. Peter was actually far funnier than I was expecting, and came prepared with a list of words for Kiki to react to; among them being the phrase “death, disease, and dismemberment.”
At one point when the conversation seemed to be dwindling, Peter pulled a question out of the “I can’t seem to think of anything else” bag: “Kiki, if you could be any of the animals your work portrays, which animal would you want to be?”
Kiki: “Oh! I’d want to be a worm. I like worms.”
A few chuckles whispered around the auditorium, and Peter looked as though he were trying to decide how best to proceed when Kiki asked: “Peter, what kind of animal would you be?”
Peter: “I think I’d be a dog.” As Peter took a moment to think about why he’d be a dog, mumbling a few ‘hmms’ and ‘well…’ phrases, Kiki leaned in a little to say, “I could crawl up your asshole!”
The whole audience took a moment to silently debate: Did she REALLY just say that? I looked over my shoulder at the camera, thinking about the folks in Online Land watching the event as a webcast. Did they catch that? Peter looked speechless, and even Kiki seemed a little suprised by it. Just as quickly the moment passed and the whole place erupted in laughing and snorting. Peter still looked like he was trying to strategize a way to rescue this event when she added: “Or you could step on me.”
And now that happily-ever-after moment will be preserved for future generations to enjoy on the Walker Channel.
Blue Girl, 1998, silicon bronze Private Collection, New York /
Courtesy PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York
Photograph by Ellen Page Wilson