Motherlode: Kiki Smith at Pace

Overview here

View from the entry, a pregnant woman is depicted seated on a chair, left, and giving birth, center

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Kiki Smith’s work. While I like her ideas, I’ve always found her abilities wanting. Her craft is sloppy, and her drawing makes me cringe. I can’t believe she hasn’t gotten better at it after all this time; alternatively, I’m surprised she has intentionally stuck with such a crummy style. But famous artists, especially famous children of famous artists, are different from you and me.

While that feeling hasn’t changed on my part, I’m happy to report that her show of numerous large stained-glass panels, installed in Pace's 22nd Street space, is a poignant journey through life. Lodestar is the title of the show; Pilgrim, the name of the series of works, “nearly 30,” according to the Pace press release. (I should have counted them myself.) We enter to the image of a gravid woman seated in a chair whose curve-armed form becomes a leitmotif; in the next panel we see the woman giving birth. Through a series of panels of figures on almost opalescent glass, we see the girl child grow into adolescence and adulthood, becoming middle-aged, then elderly. Finally we see her at rest in her coffin, a fine-lined wraith.

This is Medieval territory, the allegory of life. But the images are of contemporary people—reportedly the sitters were friends of the artist—and the issue, as old as time, remains as fresh as new life tomorrow.

We pause at childhood and adolescence, above, making our way to youth giving way to middle age, below
I'm not sure a younger artist (Smith was born in 1954) could have handled these passages with such tenderness

A metaphorical journey from cradle to grave ends . . .
The skylights in the gallery’s 22nd Street enhance the into-the-light feeling, as you perambulate the panels on your tour of the exhibition. One lovely aspect of Smith’s work is that in the course of taking in the installation, you not only confront death, you get to turn around and walk out—instant reincarnation. Another chance. Who wouldn’t want that?

. . . and then gives us the chance to return to the beginning (entryway at the far end of the image)
Smith has been working in stained glass for two decades. Each panel, set into a steel frame designed by the architect Bill Katz, began life as a drawing or collage, some of which are on view at Smith’s concurrent solo show at The Brooklyn Museum through September 12. I find the frames too heavy for the visual lightness of the glass panels, but you wouldn’t want them toppling over and creating more than an allegory of death.

According to the Pace press release, “It is Smith’s vision that this work will be presented as a permanent piece in a pavilion designed specifically for the work.” Like I say, famous artists are different from you and me. But go see the show and come to your own conclusions. It’s up through June 19.

Smith at work on Pilgrim in the glass atelier of Mayer'sche Hofkunstanstalt Gmb-Mayer, Munich. These two photographs by Barbel Miebach, courtesy of Pace Gallery
Other photographs, as always, taken by me. (Pace seems to have relaxed its no-photos policy)


The Blue Eyed Critic said...

Exactly! Why can't the woman draw. She has had enough practice! (The same thing bothers me about Philip Pearlstein. You think he would get better after all these years.)Great ideas bad execution.

Kesha Bruce: said...

Phew! Thought I was the only one who didn't drink the Kool-aid.

That said--I'll still go see it when I'm in town.

Anonymous said...

you are both so wrong her graphic work, especially the etchings are so beautifully drawn she doesnt rely on technique but has technique, look at some of the flower etchings done a few years ago, and the etchings of animals, so incredibly drawn, she knows how to draw for sure, it is her strong point. you may not like it, it may embarrass you because of its rawness but its real drawing and from the heart. i prefer kiki smiths drawing any day compared to many many others. you have to really look at her work, and it all makes sense, its all about the drawing. she can also sculpt very realistically but chooses something else. i think she is brave, and i have NOT drunk the kool aid, just really look at the work, do a google search and look at the images all together you will see. how do you feel about louise bourgeois she too drew this way only charlie finch says she sucked, which means she is great. you will be proven wrong in time, these are great drawings, it took me a long time to appreciate it when i first saw some of her drawings i thought the same thing, why isnt she better then i realized she is better she isnt relying on the traditional skill levels that are taught in schools, she developed this all on her own. father or no.

Joanne Mattera said...

Clearly we have a difference of opinion. I appreciate your passion, but I'm not swayed by your argument. I'm not anti-Kiki Smith, as you know from my post, but good drawing is good drawing.

I would not compare Bourgeois with Smith. We're not just talking apples and oranges. We're talking an entire orchard and one orange.

Stephanie Sachs said...

Had a chance to roam the streets of Chelsea a few days ago. Never have been a fan of Kiki Smith. The art world always elevates artists who want to talk about death as if it is radical. Just look at the front page of any newpaper to get that point of view. Although not so deadly these drawing did not change my opinion and did look amateur.
Joanne, I did notice two trends on my visit. Sexual deviants- which seems to be a trend with long legs, and craftiness without any attention to detail. Dyed paper towels sewn together make me snore.

Karen Schifano said...

I think I want to come to Smith's defense, even though I've gotten tired of what seems like too much "fey" work. Not so interested in fairy tales either - however, the images here got me thinking I should see the show in person, so thanks for that Joanne.
I agree that there's a connection to the not-polished-on-purpose drawing style of Bourgeoise - it's almost an "outsider" artist attempt to look authentic, and I get it. (In other words, craft would take away from the earnest quality of the line, end result).

Jan Ryan said...

Your point about art at age 56 is significant to this show. The events fade, no one that much more significant than another, here were the important events and the significant people. This is the basic progression. Same for everyone who lives long enough. There is no longer a need to portray per event in fabulously hued stained glass and humor to say wow look at this one. So, a fitting review. I did see the show. Kind of shrugged, for all the reasons you list, but see from your review that Smith wasn't trying to excite us.

Anonymous said...

I think the early 90's Sculptures are some of her best: Kiki Smith Mushroom Head