I Myself Have Seen It is the first comprehensive survey of artist Kiki Smith’s work in photography. The exhibition will explore four distinct roles photographs play as central elements in the development of Smith’s aesthetic and in the creation of her art. Photographs serve as tools at different stages of her working process, as well as providing a means of examining that very process and revealing it to her audience. Photographs define, refine, and interrogate Smith’s identity as an artist and as a woman. Other images suggest a story, including narratives constructed expressly for the camera. Finally, over the course of three decades, Smith has periodically explored the variety of ways in which photographs can function as independent works of art, ranging from straight single images to manipulated, over-painted, and composite pictures.
Throughout her work, Smith investigates a variety of themes: the fragility (both psychological and physical) of the body; the deconstruction of fairy tales and myths; the transition from childhood to adult sexuality; the notion of narrative; and the relationship of the art object to the artist and to the viewer. The exhibition reveals ways this influential artist, with a camera as a constant extension of her vision, responds to her environment: preserving felicitous combinations of textures, recording unusual decorative motifs, or capturing telling animal behaviors.
Conceived as a series of discrete installations, the exhibition incorporates over 5,000 snapshots — or small-scale prints — which suggest how Smith thinks visually. The exhibition also includes over 100 large-scale photographs, many of them showing the artist’s own sculptures at various states of finish. Other photographic works are staged narratives, representing Smith’s unique versions of traditional fairy tales. The exhibition juxtaposes source photographs from the beginning of a project to the sculptures they inspired, including a selection of three-dimensional objects. It will include photographic images realized in other media, including lithographs, photogravures, and artist’s books. It will also feature examples of her experiments with time-based media, such as her animations of Muybridge stop-motion animal studies.
Kiki Smith was born in 1954 in Nuremberg, Germany. The daughter of American sculptor Tony Smith, Kiki Smith grew up in New Jersey.
As a young girl, one of Smith’s first experiences with art was helping her father make cardboard models for his geometric sculptures. This training in formalist systems, combined with her upbringing in the Catholic Church, would later resurface in Smith’s evocative sculptures, drawings, and prints. The recurrent subject matter in Smith’s work has been the body as a receptacle for knowledge, belief, and storytelling. In the 1980s, Smith literally turned the figurative tradition in sculpture inside out, creating objects and drawings based on organs, cellular forms, and the human nervous system. This body of work evolved to incorporate animals, domestic objects, and narrative tropes from classical mythology and folk tales. Life, death, and resurrection are thematic signposts in many of Smith’s installations and sculptures. In several of her recent pieces, including Lying with the Wolf, Wearing the Skin, and Rapture, Smith takes as her inspiration the life of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. Portrayed communing with a wolf, taking shelter with its pelt, and being born from its womb, Smith’s character of Genevieve embodies the complex, symbolic relationships between humans and animals. Smith received the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 2000, the Athena Award for Excellence in Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2005, the 50th Edward MacDowell Medal from the MacDowell Colony in 2009, and has participated in the Whitney Biennial three times in the past decade. In 2005, Smith was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York. Smith’s work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Smith lives and works in New York City. Biography from Art:21.
I Myself Have Seen It: Photography and Kiki Smith is on view in the Wachenheim Gallery, the mezzanine, and the Kettlewell Print Study Room. Print room hours are Tuesdays from 1 – 3 pm, Fridays from 2 – 5 pm, and by appointment.