Kiki Smith

The American artist Kiki Smith has long been intimately familiar with the Diözesanmuseum and its historical collections. She has traveled repeatedly from New York, where she lives, to work on the extraordinary project of a chapel. The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is titled Mary‘s Mantle. On the occasion of the completion and blessing of this small house of worship, the Diözesanmuseum is also presenting a solo exhibition by the artist. Kiki Smith’s universe unfurls with outstanding works from the past two decades: sculptures of bronze and aluminum, paintings on glass with leaf gold, drawings on Nepalese paper, copperplate prints, collages, photographs, and Jacquard tapestries. The miraculous world of a serene nature stands next to images of dying and death, harmony and closeness next to suffering and violence. Humans, animals, and plants, animate and “inanimate” nature are all interwoven and in constant metamorphosis. “All the elements come together and fuse into a whole,” Kiki Smith says. Thus filigree flowers made of glass grow out of an open casket (Ashen, 2010), and blossoms and a human face are combined in the bronze floor sculptures (Flower Head I, II, 2012).

The more-than-six-meter-long collage of celestial constellations from the year 2013 of Noctua the owl, Corvus the crow, Hydra the water snake, and Filis the cat imagines in the Freising Hall the phenomena of the sky and their manifestations on earth. Stars of red glass (Mine, 1999) lie strewn on the floor, a silver sculpture Spiral Nebula (2017) floats down from the ceiling in the Munich Hall. Animals are everywhere in the exhibition as guardians of nature: birds drawn and collaged on Nepalese paper inhabit the arches around the atrium like emblems in cloisters; cat and bird are found in many friendly variations in watercolor and chalk on paper (Empath, 2022). A woman is integrated into the cosmos of stars, snake, and “seeing” plants in the tapestry Earth (2012), which is the motif of the invitation to the exhibition. A female figure appears as a “reminiscent” one painted on glass (Reminiscent, 2011) and nude, in gleaming aluminum, supported by bronze “crutches” (Red Standing Moon, 2003), or kneeling at a stake (Woman on Pyre, 2001).

Kiki Smith’s works outline possibilities and visions of being connected, of compassion, of intuition; they address care and love for the other, the flowing energy between bodies, and their peaceful proximity. These things are expressed in several titles, such as Empath (2022) and Touched (2007), a work on paper about the attachment of man and woman, and also in Vision (2009), a series on Nepalese paper in mica and gold leaf. Kiki Smith’s intention seems to be transforming by means of compassion and acts of radical empathy; sensitivity to all life forms. Thereby she trusts in a universal order. “It is all holding us,” she says. “I always think the whole universe is in some kind of love agreement.”

Kiki Smith was born in Nuremberg in 1954 to the American actress and opera singer Jane Lawrence and the architect and sculptor Tony Smith, a significant representative of Abstract Expressionism and important trailblazer of Minimalism. A year later, in 1955, the family returned to the United States.

Kiki Smith’s works have been shown in countless renowned museums worldwide and are held in important public and private collections. Kiki Smith has been awarded numerous international honors and prizes. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and Columbia University. She lives and works in New York City and Upstate New York.

©Diözesanmuseum Freising, Photos: Thomas Dashuber