When a new exhibition arives one of the challenges for a tour guide is how to unpack the show for the public. With smaller exhibitions it can be pretty straightforward, as there’s often time to show everything within a gallery during the span of a tour. However, with larger, more complex installations it can be pretty daunting. Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005 is a good example, with its profusion of materials, forms, imagery, and symbols spanning three large galleries.
Recently, with a public tour, one of our guides took the approach of entering the work by looking at 5 of Smith’s full body sculptures. If you haven’t seen the show, there are portions of bodies, both internal and external, as well as full bodies created from wax, bronze, ink, paper, and porcelain.
It might seem counterintuitive to lead a tour of an exhibition with 100+ artworks to only focus on perhaps five. However, as the guide said, by looking in a focused way at a smaller sampling, many of Smith’s themes, materials and ideas could come through in a stronger manner. Its also a great way to introduce some of the major ideas of the work and then let the audience wander and discover, which seems to be an integral part of discovering the work of Kiki Smith.