One of the leading artists of her generation, Kiki Smith (b. 1954) is a sculptor and printmaker whose work explores the power and vulnerability of the human body and the natural world. The daughter of Minimalist sculptor Tony Smith, she was born in Nuremberg, Germany and grew up in South Orange, New Jersey. During the 1970s, Smith studied briefly at Hartford Art School in Connecticut. In 1978, she joined the artists’ group, Collaborative Projects, Inc. (Colab), which aspired to make art more accessible by exhibiting outside of traditional gallery spaces. Smith’s association with this group led to her first experiments in printmaking, and she has devoted her artistic practice to both sculpture and printmaking since this time.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Smith’s work investigated the theme of the human body. With the experience she gained while training to become an emergency medical technician in 1985, she created startlingly frank and sometimes uncomfortable artworks that addressed the theme of mortality, feminist concerns, and social and political issues during the era of the AIDS crisis. Using a variety of materials, including glass, ceramic, fabric, and wax, she created sculptures depicting internal organs, bodily fluids, the reproductive system, and the life-size human figure. Her graphic works of this period paralleled her sculptural works. The print portfolio Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law (1985), for example, features screenprints and monotypes portraying internal organs while its title refers to the political issues associated with the human body. More recently, Smith has created works depicting birds and other animals, as well as works that reinterpret female characters from the realms of literature, mythology, and history.
As a natural extension of her work in printmaking, Smith has been involved in the making of books and multiples throughout her career. To date, she has created or contributed to nearly 30 books and print portfolios using a number of printmaking techniques. Smith’s books include artist’s books of her own conception as well as those made in collaboration with an author. Endocrinology (1997), for instance, consists of photolithographs of Smith’s paper cutouts along with collaged strips of poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s text, written in reaction to Smith’s artwork. Other noteworthy artist’s books by Smith include Untitled (Book of Hours) (1986), a work that features the names of bodily fluids as rubber-stamped words, and Tidal (1998), an accordion-folded photogravure depicting the moon and with an attached photolithograph of the ocean waves and tides.
Several institutions have held solo exhibitions of Smith’s work, including Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1995), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2003), and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2006). Her work is held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Tate Gallery among others.
Books by Kiki Smith available from Boreas Fine Art:
Smith, Kiki. Fountainhead. [ Columbus, Ohio ] : Logan Elm Press. 1991.
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