Kiki Smith has proved her talents once again with an exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of Art, showing her work from the past 25 years. Daughter of an opera singer and well-known architect and sculptor, Smith settled in New York in 1976.
One familiar with Smith’s work will be captivated instantly, falling head over heels with the immense space filled with Smith’s work. The space is dripping with materials and humanism, which evokes an immediate awareness of one’s self and our relationship to the world.
Evident in this exhibition appropriately titled “A Gathering”, Smith uses various materials, that illustrate her exploration of experience with our environment and ourselves. Through this gathering of materials, items and imagery, she joins them ensuing in complement or juxtaposition of one another. This mixture allows for various interpretations from the viewer, allowing for individual understanding and experiences, making the complexities of our feelings and emotions enlighten or quiver. It is this engulfing sensation, which Smith’s work whether technically eminent, or humanly graceful clearly accomplishes its purpose.
Smith’s use of history, science, literature and human nature is her gift to us. She uses these humanities, which are accessible to us but easily misunderstood or ignored and she brings them forth in ways that are unavoidable to reaction. Her handling of materials is raw and unpretentious, allowing each work and technique to be genuine and honest.
In the piece, All Souls (1988), Smith displays her concerns with life and death. The piece is composed of a fetus image, which she has found and screen printed numerous times and glued the paper together into one curtain-like sheet. Often mistaken for an antiabortion rant, this work is meant to note, “Every individual must undergo the process, of being born.”
The work Flock (1998) which is comprised of multiple bronze reliefs, that she traced from preserved bird specimens, examines the relationship between humans and animals through science, religion and literature. The bird has been used as a symbol in religious art representing the Holy Spirit. Smith also brings this from her Catholic upbringing.
Pieta (1999) is a lithograph on paper showing a woman mourning her dead cat on her lap. This image is a comparative to the Pieta of the Virgin Mary weeping over her dead son. Pieta referring to pity was originally designed for private devotion. Although this story was never mentioned in the bible, it is a popular image from the 14th century. Once again Smith references from art history and religious tale.
Blue Girl (1998), a female figure kneeling with a backdrop of starfish evokes the connection to our oceans and earth. Untitled (1987-1990) consisted of 12 glass bottles with words marking various bodily fluids is one of her pieces almost throwing you into a mode of discomfort. This is one of those relations to ourselves, which we have come to ignore or be repulsed. Smith displays this to remind you that it is there, real, human and should not cause you discomfort but relieve you from the vulgarities of our human nature.
Smith engages the human body, its beauty and flaws, and allows it to be just that….. human.
Feb. 13, 2007