by Christopher Koza
For viewers who are sometimes left wanting more from exhibits that promise great things, you’ll be impressed and grateful for the sheer volume of work in Kiki Smith: A Gathering 1980-2005 at the Walker Art Center. Featuring pieces from the last 25 years, Smith’s exhibition satisfies the intrigue it elicits at the start. The variety of her artistic medium is fresh for those who are familiar with her work and engaging for those are who not.
The first time I saw a Kiki Smith original was during a rainy Thursday night
art crawl in the trendy Pearl district of downtown Portland, Oregon. In a small
gallery filled with discerning patrons viewing large electric-lit boxes and
gorgeous abstracts was a sprinkling of other artworks from the gallery’s
inventory. Included was a Kiki Smith print of a curiously drawn wolf on a 4’
x 7’ tapestry of hand-made paper. That chance encounter with Smith’s
artwork was both serendipitous and humbling, especially considering her wide
range of interest and influence.
Smith, who’s been called a “feminist” artist focuses her work
on the human organic form through abstraction, interpretation and self-portraiture.
Since moving to New York in 1976 at the age of 22, she has been identified as
being wildly prolific and unabashedly true to the pursuits of her work. Her
art draws associations between the biological, social and political contexts
of body image, suggesting an esoteric personal identity which defies basic physical
functions, and does so with a range of expression and diversity of medium rarely
Although there are 125 works at this Walker, that’s none too many. At
the start, organic themes greet the viewer. “Digestive System,”
a piece of winding ductile iron manipulated to resemble internal organs, and
“Shield,” a painted plaster sculpture of a pregnant belly, highlight
individual parts from a whole human body. This amputation considers the exclusive
roles and symbolism of individual body parts. Another piece that centers on
the dismembered is “A Man,” which features several variations of
body parts and organs printed on a large tapestry of handmade paper.
One of the more intriguing pieces is an untitled sculpture of a squatting figure
laying limp, outstretched arms on the floor at the top of the stairwell leading
into the Wells Fargo gallery. The face of the figure is cast downward, and like
many of Smith’s figures, it possesses a sense of self-consciousness and
There are several pieces in which Smith visits the symbols of wolves and women.
“Rapture” is a life-sized bronze sculpture inspired by the story
of St. Genevieve. A smooth female figure stands upright with one foot on the
ground, while the other escapes from the belly of an overturned and mangled
Near the ceiling, about 20 feet from the ground, is a piece which encompasses
a central theme of Smith’s imagery, but deviates in style from all other
works on display. It is a sculpture of the words “All Creatures Great
and Small,” alight in green neon. This simple phrase serves as a mantra
for Smith’s work, so much of which is inspired by human and animal life.
Kiki Smith: A Gathering 1980-2005 is on display through May
14. The Walker Art Center is
located at 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. 612-375-7600.