Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith

Smith, Kiki, 1954-, American sculptor and printmaker, b. Nuremberg, Germany. The daughter of sculptor Tony Smith, she grew up in New Jersey and settled in New York City in 1976. Prolific and essentially self taught, she has been acclaimed as one of the most significant artists of her generation. Her audacious yet often delicate figurative works are made in many media, including bronze, aluminium, wax, paper, glass, ceramic, and fabric. Smith has been fascinated with the human body, as a functioning unit and a political object. Much of her 1980s work portrays external and internal parts of the body (feet, breasts, organs, fluids), some bearing signs of mortality and decay, some evoking the ravages of AIDS. Her later sculptures are mainly bodies in the round, often life-sized and under some duress; some are flayed, some dead. Others are frank in their concern with bodily functions, e.g. Pee Body (1992), some, e.g., her St. Genevieve series, mirror her Roman Catholic background, and others reflect her concerns with storytelling, myth, and the feminine, as in her sculptures and prints of the Red Riding Hood story or her monumental witches on pyres. Smith's more recent works frequently portray birds and other animals—often interacting with human figures—as well as flowers.

See W. Weitman, Kiki Smith: Prints, Books and Things (2003), H. Posner and C. Lyon, Kiki Smith (2005), and S. Engberg et al., Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005 (2006).

Kiki Smith (born January 18, 1954, in Nuremberg, Germany) is an American artist classified as a feminist artist, a movement with beginnings in the twentieth century. Her Body Art is imbued with political significance, undermining the traditional erotic representations of women by male artists, and often exposes the inner biological systems of females as a metaphor for hidden social issues. Her work also often includes the theme of birth and regeneration, sustenance, and frequently has Catholic allusions. Smith has also been active in debate over controversies such as AIDS, gender, race, and battered women.

Smith began sculpting in the late 1970s. She is best known for her sculptures; however, she creates pieces in a variety of media. She was an active member of the artist's group Colab.

Her print collection is particularly extensive and began in the 1980s. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has consistently collected her prints, and now owns over fifty of her print projects. Speaking of the quality of reproduction inherent to the medium, Smith has stated that "Prints mimic what we are as humans: we are all the same and yet every one is different. I think there's a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries." (1998)

Since 1980, Smith has produced a myriad of work in media such as sculpture, prints, installations and others that have been admired for having a highly developed, yet sometimes unsettling, sense of intimacy in her works’ timely political and social provocations. These traits have brought her critical success.

In the Blue Prints series 1999, Kiki Smith experimented with the aquatint process. The "Virgin with Dove" was achieved with aquatint and airbrushing with stop out, an acid resist that protects the copper plate and prevents the Prussian blue ink from adhering therefor creating a halo around the Virgin and Holy Spirit. This image of the Virgin is a powerful example of contemporary Marian art.

Smith's first works were screenprints on dresses, scarves and shirts, often with images of body parts. In association with artist group Colab, Smith printed an array of posters in the early 1980s containing political statements or announcing upcoming events. A sampling of her other works include: All Souls (1988), a screenprint on 36 attached sheets of handmade Thai paper with repetitive images of a fetus, in black and white. Smith created similar prints including Untitled (Baby's Heads), 1990 and Untitled (Negative Legs), 1991. How I Know I'm Here (1985) is a 16-foot, horizontal, four part linocut depicting internal organs including a heart, lungs, and male and female reproductive organs, intermingled with etched lines representing her own feet, face, and hands. Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law (1985) is a nine part print portfolio that individualizes and calls attention to the body's internal organs. Smith used the image of a human ovum, surrounded on one side by protective cells, in Black Flag (1989), and 'Cause I'm On My Time (inserts for Fawbush Gallery Invitations ) (1990).

Mary Magdelene (1994), a sculpture made of silicon bronze and forged steel, features a woman's nude body in an untraditional way: her whole body is flayed, skin removed to show bare muscle tissue. However, her face, breasts and area surrounding her navel remain smooth. She wears a chain around her ankle and her face is relatively undetailed and is turned upwards. Smith's sculpture Standing (1998), featuring a female figure standing atop the trunk of a dead Eucalyptus tree, is a part of the Stuart Collection of public art on the campus of the University of California, San Diego.

Smith has also created an extensive collection of self-portraits, nature-themed works, and many pieces that depict scenes from fairy-tales, often in unconventional ways.

Smith feel that she makes traditional objects.

I miss radicality—in my own work and in the art world. The art world seems very product-dominated, and I’m a product maker. But it’s not as interesting an art world now. It’s not as determined by artists themselves. When I first came to New York you really had to work at it. It wasn’t given to you. I miss that a little bit. I would like to be more outside of things, but it’s just not my personality at all.

Her father was the artist Tony Smith and her mother the actress and opera singer Jane Lawrence Smith.

She has created unique books including: Fountainhead (1991); The Vitreous Body (2001); and Untitled (Book of Hours) (1986). Smith collaborated with poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge to produce Endocrinology (1997), and Concordance (2006) (and with author Lynne Tillman to create Madame Realism (1984).


  • Adams, Laurie Schneider, Ed. ''A History of Western Art" Third Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2001.
  • Alan Moore and Marc Miller, eds., ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery (Collaborative Projects, NY, 1985).


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