Sep 21 – Nov 9, 2019
Robischon Gallery is very pleased to present its second exhibition of the Jacquard tapestries by the renowned, German-born American artist Kiki Smith along with work from four separate editions of the artist’s varied and noteworthy print series. Internationally celebrated, Smith is widely acknowledged for her early 1980s sculptural expressions of the female body. Often shown as anatomical fragments - which were powerfully conveyed through objects and drawings based on human organs, cellular forms and the nervous system – Smith’s overall sense of the fragility of life and a heightened awareness of mortality reflected the cultural mood of the time. Staying true yet evolving, the recurrent subject matter in the artist’s work has been in offering the body as a receptacle for knowledge, belief, and storytelling while further incorporating through the years, aspects of Nature such as animals and birds, as narrative expressions of ancient myths and folk tales. Smith’s distinctive language often communicates in thematic ways – anchored in a kind of sacred triad – where life, death and resurrection speak to the human condition and the cyclical nature of all things.
Well-respected for her multimedia studio practice and broad sense of experimentation, Smith’s ongoing creative vision and exploration of a range of techniques has made the medium of tapestry an inspired vehicle for the artist’s language. While tapestry itself is rooted in the Medieval – a visually ripe medium in which to convey ancient narratives for Smith – it is the current contemporary mode in the evolved Jacquard weaving process (established in 1804), which employs the digital sophistication in order to produce the artist’s compelling tactile surfaces. Smith begins with collaged layouts for her suite of tapestries which involve an endless variety of techniques and media, with glitter, colored pencil, watercolor and a myriad of printed materials including cut Nepalese paper in a landscape of widely diverse textures. She then sends a large-scale collage on paper to the noted Magnolia Editions tapestry studio, often accompanied by various smaller etchings and drawings. These components are then scanned and photographed at high resolution and then combined and manipulated digitally by the artist. After each digital revision, Smith and the studio print large-scale proofs on paper so that the artist can continue to work directly on their surfaces with more watercolors, ink, and other media. “This way,” Magnolia Editions’ Donald Farnsworth points out, “the artist’s reaction is physical, in her studio; she’s not just reacting to a computer screen.” Each tapestry edition undergoes dozens of steps and versions on its way to completion, from the large collaged paper drawings to digital files; prints to reprints, to reprints with over-painting and more collaging; painting, weaving, and reweaving until each detail, texture, and color meets exactly with Smith’s specifications. In some cases, the weavings take several years to reach its last incarnation. This final weaving of each mixed-media amalgam into a single textile-object carries within it, according to the artist, a metaphoric message of a complex layered world revealing an abundance of interwoven threads which further suggest in symbol, a pervasive spiritual connection. The threaded multitude of spider webs in Spinners have captured a harvest of ghostly moths while in Congregation, the woman, deer and other animals are visually united with the rest of the natural world through a network of complex lines of sight. Smith’s woven editions are united further by the series of horizontal bands that pass through each tapestry, as if to suggest that within each ‘realm’ there exists the same strata of sky, land, and its ground beneath, where all humans, plants and animals share in existence as equals, vulnerable to all that life will bring.
Much like the still life related, floral imagery that rounds out the overall exhibition, Smith’s delicate hand-colored etchings of daisy-like flowers in the Escapades suite each contain subtle shifts within the unexpected flower configurations. From flower to flower, each holds a distinctive quality or character; one has impossibly asymmetric petals off to one side and another has an excess of stacked petals like an elaborate wig, while still another displays an amplified protective barrier surrounding the center of its floral form. The diminutive prints of Escapades along with the varied imagery and scale of the Touch and Variety Flowers suites, invite closer inspection of each pale or rich hue and sensitively drawn line. In Smith’s hands, the individual flowers are compelled to stand uniquely on their own even as they are, like kin, part of the something larger.
Within the process of making editioned work, such as textile or printmaking, Kiki Smith conveys that for her the act of repetition is a powerful tool, both visually and behaviorally, and that she uses repetition to express spiritual or ritualistic feelings throughout her artwork. She states that the process “mimics 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.” The artist also suggests a theme that is common to her tapestries, which is an absence of boundaries - a way to acknowledge animistic spiritual traditions and myths. Smith states that the presence of plants, animals, and heavenly bodies throughout her works suggests, “how imperative it is at this moment to celebrate and honor the wondrous and precarious nature of being here on earth.”
Kiki Smith’s work has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibitions worldwide with over 25 museum exhibitions, including the retrospectives “Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which traveled to the Walker Art Center, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and the Whitney Museum of American Art; “Kiki Smith: Sojourn” at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum (2009), and “Kiki Smith: Prints, Books, and Things” at the Museum of Modern Art (2004). Her work is represented in museums worldwide, including Art Institute of Chicago; Cleveland Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young Museum; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and many more. Her work has also been featured at five Venice Biennales, including the 2017 edition. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017 was awarded the title of Honorary Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Other awards include: the 2013 U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts, conferred by Hillary Clinton; 2010 Nelson A. Rockefeller Award, Purchase College School of the Arts; the 2009 Edward MacDowell Medal, and the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 2000; and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center, among others. In 2006, Smith was recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the “TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World.” She is an adjunct professor at NYU and Columbia University.