Individual nature – Kiki Smith

Before it´s too late (just one more week), I absolutely had to go see the exhibition of Kiki Smith´s large size canvases and other works at the Lower Belvedere museum.  The Belvedere is showing about sixty works of this American artist´s multi-facetted oevre in the exhibition Processions , including sculptures, large tapestries, and objects and canvases made from many different materials.

Sculptures such as “Birth” show humans being born from animals. Large jacquard tapestries depict Smith´s interpretation of nature.

The exhibition title Processions derives from an idea that came to Kiki Smith when thinking about how processions move down roads.  In the museum space the visitor also moves in a linear way from room to room, and you can also move from one time-period to another.  It also symbolizes the forward movement of Smith´s own oevre.  In her more recent work, she has a focus on nature, birds and other animals, and the relationship of humans to it, which of course thematically is right up my alley.

“Nature is the most fascinating thing that is around us. … It´s all a miracle, and certainly an endangered miracle, but it´s a miracle to behold, to see all these animals.”

(Kiki Smith about Nature, in a video clip viewable on Belvedere website)


Black Animal Drawing (1996-98), a collage with white line relief etching in black ink on woven paper, mounted on two layers of woven paper
(Floor) Dead crows (1995/2016) and (on the wall) Pietà (1999)

In her art, several motifs are repeated time and again, in different materials and shapes.  Birds, wolves, stars, the human body or parts of it.  She talks about having a “vocabulary” of forms that she can use repeatedly in different ways, using different materials and colours.

Her work is extremely diverse where form is concerned, but what comes through in all of it is her concern with earth and our (her) relationship with it.

Wolves, birds, and deer are some of the animals that appear in Kiki Smith´s art again and again.


Several of Kiki Smith´s sculptures of human bodies and body parts are inspired by her reading Gray´s Anatomy (the illustrated 19th century textbook, not the TV series).

In our bodies  we experience being on Earth, and it is how we recognize the form of others, she says in an interview – our bodies are our biggest commonality with other humans.  But in her early work of the 1980s her focus on bodies was also a response to the AIDS crisis and the death of her own sister from the disease.  It prompted her to explore mortality and the physicality of the human body in her work.

Upside-down Body with Beads (1992), white bronze with glass beads and wire


You can look at the slide-show below for a few more photos from the exhibition (works only on some devices).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More Info

The exhibition ends on 15 September, so if I inspired you to go see it, you´d better be quick about it.   You can also watch some short video clips of Kiki Smith talking about her art on the website of the Belvedere.   In 2012, the American public broadcasting station PBS produced a profile of Kiki Smith, which is still online for your watching pleasure.

My sources:  Belvedere exhibition page, PBS documentary, Wikipedia

5 thoughts on “Individual nature – Kiki Smith

  1. Thank you Karin! I visited the exhibition of Kiki Smith at the Belvedere and was fascinated. I also started reading more about the fascinating artist. Your blog is excellent and it has put a lot of questions that I had into perspective. I am glad that we had the chance the see it before it end a week form today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are most welcome, thank you for your feedback. And you are so right about that. How many times I feel like crying when I read about yet another environmental crime we have wrought on earth and our fellow animals. The dead crows are apparently a work she made after a real incident of a whole flock of birds just falling from the sky, possibly because they had flown into a cloud of pesticides.

      Liked by 1 person

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