Kiki Smith

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Kiki Smith
Time 100 Kiki Smith a.jpg
Kiki Smith at the 2006 Time 100. Image from a Rocketboom vlog of the event.
Born (1954-01-18) January 18, 1954 (age 60)
Nuremberg, 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, in Nuremberg, Germany) is an American artist classified as a feminist artist, a movement with beginnings in the 20th century. Her Body Art is imbued with political significance, undermining the traditional erotic representations of women by male artists, and often exposes the inner biological systems of females as a metaphor for hidden social issues. Her work also often includes the themes of birth and regeneration, as well as sustenance, and frequently has Catholic allusions. Smith has also been active in debate over controversies such as AIDS, gender, race, and battered women. She lives in the East Village, Manhattan.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Smith grew up in South Orange, New Jersey and attended Columbia High School.[2] She studied baking for a while; she trained as an emergency medical technician.[3]

Kiki Smith began sculpting in the late 1970s. She is best known for her sculptures; however, she creates pieces in a variety of media. She was an active member of the artists' group Colab.[4]

Her father was the artist Tony Smith and her mother the actress and opera singer Jane Lawrence Smith.[5] They were both religious in some sense; her mother was a converted Hindu and Catholic, and her father was raised by Jesuits. Smith describes herself as spiritual, saying that, "the most important part of my life” has been spent “thinking about God or Gods”.[6] There are underlying themes of devotion, religion, repetition, and/or spirituality in Smith's work, whether that be in reference to her own spirituality, or the spirituality of other cultures and their history. Smith has said that she was influenced by her experience as a learning disabled child in school, and that as a result it is important to her for her work to be accessible.[7]


Since 1980, Smith has produced a myriad of works in media such as sculpture, prints, installations and others. These have been admired for having a highly developed, yet sometimes unsettling, sense of intimacy in their timely political and social provocations.[8] This early work was developed in the context of Colab.

Her print collection is particularly extensive and began in the 1980s. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has consistently collected her prints, and now owns over 50 of her print projects. Speaking of the quality of reproduction inherent to the medium, Smith has stated that "Prints mimic what we are as humans: we are all the same and yet every one is different. I think there's a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries." (1998) [9]

In the Blue Prints series, 1999, Kiki Smith experimented with the aquatint process. The "Virgin with Dove" was achieved with aquatint and airbrushing with stop-out, an acid resist that protects the copper plate and prevents the Prussian blue ink from adhering, therefore creating a halo around the Virgin and Holy Spirit.

Smith's first works were screenprints on dresses, scarves and shirts, often with images of body parts. In association with artist group Colab, Smith printed an array of posters in the early 1980s containing political statements or announcing upcoming events. A sampling of her other works include: All Souls (1988), a screenprint on 36 attached sheets of handmade Thai paper with repetitive images of a fetus, in black and white. 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, features a woman's nude body in an untraditional way: her whole body is flayed, skin removed to show bare muscle tissue. However, her face, breasts and the area surrounding her navel remain smooth. 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 dead Eucalyptus tree, is a part of the Stuart Collection of public art on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. While studying anatomy Smith worked with cadavers. For her sculptures she casts both the living and the dead, and has expressed that she tries to be respectful of their bodies.[7]

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 exploration of death and sickness represented by drawings of figures on large-scale plates of translucent glass and life-size sculpture.[10]

Smith has also created an extensive collection of self-portraits, nature-themed works, and many pieces that depict scenes from fairy tales, often in unconventional ways.

Smith feels that she makes traditional objects.

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.[8]

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.” [7]

In 2012, Smith showed a series of three 9 x 6 ft. Jacquard tapestries, published by Magnolia Editions, at the Neuberger Museum of Art.[11]


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.[12] 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.[13] This permanent commission marked the final significant component of the Museum’s 20-year restoration.[14] 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.[15]


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 and Realism (1984).


In 1982, Smith received her first solo exhibition, "Life Wants to Live", at The Kitchen.[16] 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).[14] 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).[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] Then the exhibition traveled to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,[19] 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.[20]

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).[16]


Smith's many accolades also include the Nelson A. Rockefeller Award from Purchase College School of the Arts (2010),[21] Women in the Arts Award from the Brooklyn Museum (2009),[22] 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.[14] In 2012, Smith received the U.S. State Department Medal of Arts from Hillary Clinton; pieces by Smith adorn consulates in Istanbul and Mumbai.[23] 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.[24]


  • 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. ^ Tony Smith Sculpture Project, Lennie Pierro Memorial arts Foundation. Accessed August 31, 2011. "Today Kiki Smith, Tony’s daughter, is one of the foremost artists of her generation. Her sister, Seton, a photographer, is also well known in the art world. Both grew up in South Orange and attended Columbia High School."
  3. ^ Michael Kimmelman (November 5, 2006), The Intuitionist New York Times Magazine.
  4. ^ Carlo McCormick, "The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984", Princeton University Press, 2006
  5. ^ [1] Roberta Smith, "Jane Lawrence Smith, 90, Actress Associated With 1950's Art Scene, Dies" New York Times 8/22/2005
  6. ^ Close, Chuck ‘Kiki Smith’ BOMB Magazine Fall 1994, Retrieved July 27, 2011
  7. ^ a b c d Close, Chuck ‘Kiki Smith’ BOMB Magazine Fall 1994, Retrieved July 27, 2011
  8. ^ a b Robert Ayers (January 31, 2007), Kiki Smith, ARTINFO, retrieved 2008-04-22 
  9. ^ Zelmati, J.: "Kiki Smith collection premiers at MOMA". The Daily Princetonian, December 11, 2003
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ "Visionary Sugar: Works by Kiki Smith at the Neuberger Museum." Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  12. ^ Leah Ollman (November 1, 1998), She Stands Expectation on Its Head Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Robin Pogrebin (November 23, 2009), Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans to Design Window for Eldridge Street Synagogue New York Times.
  14. ^ a b c Kiki Smith: Lodestar, April 30 – June 19, 2010 Pace Gallery, New York.
  15. ^ Michael Kimmelman (July 15, 2012), A Glass Box That Nests Snugly on the Roof New York Times.
  16. ^ a b c Kiki Smith: Realms, March 14 – April 27, 2002 Pace Gallery, New York.
  17. ^ "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. 
  18. ^ "Siri Engberg". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved May 3, 2013. 
  19. ^ Mark Stevens (November 25, 2007), The Way of All Flesh New York Magazine.
  20. ^ "Annual Report" (PDF). Walker Art Center. 2008. p. 55. Retrieved May 4, 2013. 
  21. ^ Kiki Smith Pace Gallery, New York.
  22. ^ *Kiki Smith wins Brooklyn Museum’s Women in the Arts Award
  23. ^ Mike Boehm (November 30, 2012), Hillary Clinton will give five artists medals for embassy art Los Angeles Times.
  24. ^ 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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