Kiki Smith

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Kiki Smith
Kiki Smith 8229.jpg
Kiki Smith in 2013
Born (1954-01-18) January 18, 1954 (age 61)
Nuremberg, West Germany
Nationality American
Known for Printmaking, sculpture, drawing
'My Blue Lake', photogravure with lithograph by Kiki Smith, 1995, Wake Forest University Art Collections
'Lying with the Wolf', ink and pencil drawing by Kiki Smith, 2001

Kiki Smith (born January 18, 1954) is a German–American artist. Her work has addressed the themes of birth and regeneration, and sometimes has Catholic allusions. Her figurative work of the late 80’s and early 90’s clashed against cultural taboos surrounding bodily functions. Smith’s early pieces also confronted subjects such as AIDS, gender and race, while recent works have depicted the human condition in relationship to nature. Smith lives and works in the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York City.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Kiki Smith’s father was artist Tony Smith and her mother was actress and opera singer opera singer Jane Lawrence Smith.[2] Smith grew up in South Orange, New Jersey and attended Columbia High School. She studied baking and also trained as an emergency medical technician.[3] She was enrolled at Hartford Art School in Connecticut for eighteen months from 1974-1975. She moved to New York City in 1976 where she has since resided.


Kiki Smith was an active member of the artists' group Colab in the late 70’s and early 80’s. She works in a variety of media including sculpture, printmaking, drawing and jewelry. Smith has employed timely political and social content in her work, and has developed a unique lineage of mythological imagery over the course of her 40-year art practice.


The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Whitney Museum both have extensive collections of Smith’s prints. Speaking about printmaking’s inherent quality of reproduction, Smith has stated that "Prints mimic what we are as humans: we are all the same and yet everyone is different. I think there's a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries."

In the Blue Prints series, 1999, Kiki Smith experimented with the aquatint process. The "Virgin with Dove" was achieved with an airbrushed aquatint, an acid resist that protects the copper plate. When printed, this technique results in a halo around the Virgin and Holy Spirit.

Some of Smith’s earliest print works were screenprinted dresses, scarves and shirts, often with images of body parts. In association with the artist group Colab, Smith printed an array of posters in the early 1980s containing political statements or announcing events. Her other works include All Souls (1988), a screenprint in black ink on 36 attached sheets of handmade Thai paper of repetitive images of a fetus. Smith created similar prints including Untitled (Baby's Heads), 1990 and Untitled (Negative Legs), 1991. How I Know I'm Here (1985) is a 16-foot, horizontal, four-part linocut depicting internal organs including a heart, lungs, and male and female reproductive organs, intermingled with etched lines representing her own feet, face, and hands. Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law (1985) is a nine-part print portfolio that individualizes and calls attention to the body's internal organs. Smith used the image of a human ovum, surrounded on one side by protective cells, in Black Flag (1989), and 'Cause I'm On My Time (inserts for Fawbush Gallery Invitations) (1990).


Mary Magdelene (1994), a sculpture made of silicon bronze and forged steel, is an example of Smith’s untraditional use of the female nude. The figure is without skin everywhere but her face, breasts and the area surrounding her navel. She wears a chain around her ankle; her face is relatively undetailed and is turned upwards. Smith has said that when making Mary Magdalene she was inspired by depictions of Mary Magdalene in Southern German sculpture, where she was depicted as a "wild woman".[7] Smith's sculpture Standing (1998), featuring a female figure standing atop the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree, is a part of the Stuart Collection of public art on the campus of the University of California, San Diego.

In 2005, Smith's installation, Homespun Tales won acclaim at the 51st Venice Biennale.[10] "Lodestar," Smith's 2010 installation at the Pace Gallery, was an exhibition of free-standing stained glass works painted with life-size figures.

In 2012, Smith showed a series of three 9 x 6 ft. Jacquard tapestries, published by Magnolia Editions, at the Neuberger Museum of Art.

Kiki SmithRapture2001Bronze67-1/4 in. x 62 in. x 26-1/4 in.


Smith’s subject material has included the self, nature, and unconventional depictions of fairy tales. Though she has worked alongside and during political movements, such as AIDS awareness and the Feminist movement, Smith does not see her work as political. “ I miss radicality—in my own work and in the art world. The art world seems very product-dominated, and I’m a product maker. But it’s not as interesting an art world now. It’s not as determined by artists themselves. When I first came to New York you really had to work at it. It wasn’t given to you. I miss that a little bit. I would like to be more outside of things, but it’s just not my personality at all. ” Of figurative sculpture she has said, “they have real power in them, they take up some kind of psychic space,” and that, “I think that objects have memories. I’m always thinking that I’ll go to the museum and see something and have a big memory about some other lifetime.”

In 2012, Smith showed a series of three 9 x 6 ft. Jacquard tapestries, published by Magnolia Editions, at the Neuberger Museum of Art.[3]


After five years of development, Kiki Smith's first permanent outdoor sculpture was installed in 1998 on the campus of the University of California, San Diego.[4] In 2010, the Museum at Eldridge Street commissioned Smith and architect Deborah Gans to create a new monumental east window for the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark located on New York’s Lower East Side.[5] This permanent commission marked the final significant component of the Museum’s 20-year restoration.[6] For the Claire Tow Theater above the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Smith conceived Overture (2012), a little mobile made of cross-hatched planks and cast-bronze birds.[7]


She has created unique books, including: Fountainhead (1991); The Vitreous Body (2001); and Untitled (Book of Hours) (1986). Smith collaborated with poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge to produce Endocrinology (1997), and Concordance (2006), and with author Lynne Tillman to create Madame Realism (1984).


In 1982, Smith received her first solo exhibition, "Life Wants to Live", at The Kitchen.[8] Since then, her work has been exhibited in nearly 150 solo exhibitions at museums and galleries worldwide and has been featured in hundreds of significant group exhibitions, including the Whitney Biennial, New York (1991, 1993, 2002); La Biennale di Firenze, Florence, Italy (1996-1997; 1998); and the Venice Biennale (1993, 1999, 2005, 2009).[6] Past solo exhibitions have been held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth (1996–97); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1996–97); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (1997–98); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (1998); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1998); Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson (1999); St. Louis Art Museum (1999-2000); and the International Center for Photography (2001).[8]

In 2005, "the artist’s first full-scale American museum survey" titled Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005 debuted at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.[9] Then an expansion came to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis where the show originated. At the Walker, Smith coauthored the catalogue raisonné with curator Siri Engberg.[10] Then the exhibition traveled to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,[11] and finally to La Coleccion Jumex in Ecatepec de Morelos outside Mexico City. In 2008, Smith gave Selections from Animal Skulls (1995) to the Walker in honor of Engberg.[12]

Kiki Smith has been represented by The Pace Gallery since 1994 and The Galerie Lelong in Paris.


Smith’s work can be found in over thirty-five public collections around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Bonner Kunstverein (Bonn, Germany); the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC); the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA); the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA); the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin, Ireland); the Israel Museum (Jerusalem, Israel); the Speed Art Museum (Louisville, KY); the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk, Denmark); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); the Moderna Museet (Stockholm, Sweden); the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); the New York Public Library; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Tate Gallery (London, England); the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, England); the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); and the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT).[8]


Smith's many accolades also include the Nelson A. Rockefeller Award from Purchase College School of the Arts (2010),[13] Women in the Arts Award from the Brooklyn Museum (2009),[14] the 50th Edward MacDowell Medal (2009), the Medal Award from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2006), the Athena Award for Excellence in Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design (2006), the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine (2000), and Time Magazine’s “Time 100: The People Who Shape Our World” (2006). Smith was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, in 2005.[6] In 2012, Smith received the U.S. State Department Medal of Arts from Hillary Clinton; pieces by Smith adorn consulates in Istanbul and Mumbai.[15] After being chosen speaker for the annual Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Lecture Series in Contemporary Sculpture and Criticism in 2013, Smith became the artist-in-residence for the University of North Texas Institute for the Advancement of the Arts in the 2013-14 academic year.[16]


  • Adams, Laurie Schneider, Ed. A History of Western Art" Third Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2001.
  • Alan W. Moore and Marc Miller, eds., ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery (Collaborative Projects (Colab), NY, 1985).


  1. ^ Danielle Stein (October 2007), The Glass Menagerie W.
  2. ^ [1] Roberta Smith, "Jane Lawrence Smith, 90, Actress Associated With 1950's Art Scene, Dies" New York Times 8/22/2005
  3. ^ "Visionary Sugar: Works by Kiki Smith at the Neuberger Museum." Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  4. ^ Leah Ollman (November 1, 1998), She Stands Expectation on Its Head Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ Robin Pogrebin (November 23, 2009), Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans to Design Window for Eldridge Street Synagogue New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c Kiki Smith: Lodestar, April 30 – June 19, 2010 Pace Gallery, New York.
  7. ^ Michael Kimmelman (July 15, 2012), A Glass Box That Nests Snugly on the Roof New York Times.
  8. ^ a b c Kiki Smith: Realms, March 14 – April 27, 2002 Pace Gallery, New York.
  9. ^ "Whitney To Present Kiki Smith Retrospective, Traversing The Artist's 25-Year Career" (PDF) (Press release). Whitney Museum of American Art. July 2006. Retrieved May 5, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Siri Engberg". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved May 3, 2013. 
  11. ^ Mark Stevens (November 25, 2007), The Way of All Flesh New York Magazine.
  12. ^ "Annual Report" (PDF). Walker Art Center. 2008. p. 55. Retrieved May 4, 2013. 
  13. ^ Kiki Smith Pace Gallery, New York.
  14. ^ *Kiki Smith wins Brooklyn Museum’s Women in the Arts Award
  15. ^ Mike Boehm (November 30, 2012), Hillary Clinton will give five artists medals for embassy art Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ Internationally renowned artist Kiki Smith to serve as IAA artist-in-residence at UNT for 2013-14 University of North Texas, press release of September 27, 2013.

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