Kiki Smith

United States 1954


Kiki Smith
Kiki Smith
United States
December 18, 2014
Ok, I know it's so damn corny to quote somebody just to describe yourself, let alone Confucius, but this quote says all about my relationship with Widewalls, so forgive me for doing this: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Am I forgiven?

Widely known for her sculptures, prints, and drawings, Kiki Smith is a German-born American contemporary artist, who focuses on narrative, the human condition, and the natural world. Coming from a family whose artistic potential is almost immeasurable, she was able to materialize the potential into something tangible, creating an oeuvre that is acclaimed and appreciated throughout the world. With themes such as death, sexuality, and gender, the artist addressed the largest audience possible, but that was by no means a signal to sink into mediocre work. Instead, Smith has kept an insanely high level of quality, evolving over time, embracing and speaking courageously of the inevitable.

Kiki Smith arts from 2003 and 2012 and 2013 are in museum and press
Kiki Smith – Women with Sheep (Three Women, Three Sheep), 2009

Kiki Smith: A Story that Originates in Art and Some Related Artists

As mentioned above, her family was (and still is) art-oriented. Smith was born in Nuremberg, Germany, where her mother, Jane Lawrence, was working as an actress and opera singer. Her father was Tony Smith, an American sculptor, one of the creators of Minimalism, known for his large-scale geometric works in steel. They had three daughters, Kiki, and one-year-younger twins, Seton and Beatrice. Seton had showed an interest in visual arts from an early age, eventually becoming a successful photographer, while Beatrice shared her mother’s passion for theater. Sadly, she died from complications caused by AIDS in 1988, making Kiki and Seton even more connected. Observed from outside, the family house in South Orange, New Jersey looked the same as all the ones around. On the inside, an entirely different aesthetic prevailed. These were the 60s and early 70s, and three sisters were growing up completely surrounded by Abstract Expressionist paintings by family friends and frequent visitors like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Barnet Newman, but also by the Minimalist sculptures made by their father, Tony.[1] With abstract expressionism dominating their living environment, the sisters were aware of della Francesca, da Vinci, Matisse and Bonnard, but for example, didn’t know anything about Andrew Wyeth until they went to college.

As a teenager, Smith started making craft-oriented art, approaching things in a more symbolic, figurative way. Those early crafts soon became something more complex. She engaged art-making as a part-time thing, deciding to pledge herself entirely only after her father’s death in 1980. That sad occasion was accompanied by the untimely death of her sister Beatrice eight years later, pushing Smith further into the examination of the inevitable death. Since she makes drawings, prints, sculptures, videos, photographs, and tapestry, it can be a challenging task of categorizing Smith’s work. As the artist states: “Creativity is just the capacity of consciousness. It is a way to synthesize. It is a good language to ground your consciousness in a condensed manner that you can see physically outside yourself.” However, the basic way of making things is similar to how she made things all her life, and she makes changes depending on the changes in her life.[2] There are several artists that made an impression on her, as she recalls seeing Picasso’s Guernica at MoMA when she was a child, but also the Oceanic prints on cloth by Matisse and then Van Gogh’s Starry Night. She went to Colmar five times to see the Isenheim Altar by Grünewald. Speaking of people closer to her generation, there are Rob Voerman, Peter Buggenhout, Leon Golub.

She fully dedicated herself to art after her father’s death

Kiki Smith museum and home contact with the use of 2012 privacy policy terms
Kiki Smith – Singer, 2009 (Left) / Homecoming, 2014 (Right)

Influences and Important Recent Exhibitions

When it comes to female artist influences, Smith points out Frida Kahlo, Lee Bontecou, Eva Hesse, Nancy Spero, Pat Steir, and Sonia Delaunay. Asian art is also an influence, both back in her formative years, and now. Growing up in the 60s, in a very overt way, India was very present in the cultural imaging. Then China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. “At different times I paid more attention to one over another. It moves around what influences you. Certainly today Asian art is a dominant influence.”[3] Buddhism is also quite influential in people’s thoughts on art. Smith is particularly interested in Guanyin. Naturally, representation changes over different time periods, so she looks at Japanese fashion, Egyptian things, etc. Speaking of recent exhibitions, in 2014, Smith participated with Jaume Plensa and Barthélémy Toguo in a group show at Lelong Gallery. The trio of artists comes from the same generation, but from very different backgrounds. It was a wonderful opportunity to see three extinguished sculptors at the same place and at the same time.

In 2016, there were two major shows. First, Gallery C218 presented Kiki Smith and Tony Smith: Masterpiece in Focus. The name of the show pretty much tells the tale – one next to another, there are artworks from two masters that have each marked their own generation. Belonging to the opposite artistic movements (Kiki’s aligning with figuration and Tony’s with Minimalism and Abstraction) the exhibited pieces offer equally compelling meditations on the presence, embodiment and consciousness. And second – on May 13, Smith’s latest solo show Woven Tales opened at Peters Projects. It represents the culmination of her interest in tapestry, showing that the approach she took is similar to artists of the past. The artist filled her work with emblematic imagery and referencing the compositional components of historic weaving. Consisting of 11 large-scale tapestries, the exhibition shows that her pieces should be read as narrative pieces, but their imagery suggests open-ended meanings with variable interpretations. Each tapestry in started with Smith making what is called a cartoon, a full-scale model of the design. After that comes photographing, working on a computer, reworking by hand – a series of stages with a lot of translation happening.

Smith is an artist whose projects include sculptures, drawings, prints, and tapestries

Kiki Smith home privacy is about using new printmaking materials in 2003 and 2013
Kiki Smith – Wolf with Birds III, 2010


With a career spanning almost four decades, Smith is yet to face any sort of repetition, consolidation, completion, conformity, or depletion in her never-ending quest of describing and establishing a discourse of the meta-body. Since reality is brutally honest, she tirelessly continues to produce new pieces. She’s also forging an even greater definition and expansive resonance to the individual and collective implications inherent in those works. As people are increasingly forced to finally face the unavoidable and inescapable questions of sexuality, gender, health, and self that Smith has been tackling all along, the art world has come to understand her work more deeply and profoundly.

She is represented by Pace Gallery.

Kiki Smith lives and works in New York.


  1. Rowlands P. A Tale of Two Sisters, The Wall Street Journal [October 7,2016]
  2. Elkann A. Kiki Smith, Alain Elkann [October 7,2016]
  3. Kuan C. Interview with Kiki Smith, Oxford University Press [October 7,2016]
  4. Featured image: Kiki Smith – portrait (detail) – photo credits Erik Madigan Heck
    All images courtesy of Pace Gallery

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2017Kiki Smith: WonderlandHaus der Kunst, MunichSolo
2016Kiki Smith: Woven TalesPeters Projects, Santa Fe, New MexicoSolo
2016The 105th Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art: Threatening BeautyMaier Museum of Art at Randolph College, Lynchburg, VirginiaGroup
2016Kiki Smith, Betty WoodmanGalleria Lorcan O’Neill, RomeGroup
2016GlassPace Gallery, 537 West 24th Street, New YorkGroup
2016Talking on PaperPace BeijingGroup
2016Medicine In ArtMuseum of Contemporary Art in KrakowGroup
2016Wuzhen International Contemporary Art Invitational ExhibitionWuzhen, ChinaGroup
2016The Nest: An Exhibition of Art in NatureKatonah Museum of Art, New YorkGroup
2016Revealed Terrain: The Semantics of LandscapeCenter for Book Arts, New YorkGroup
2016Masterpiece in Focus: Kiki Smith and Tony SmithNational Gallery of Canada, OttawaGroup
2016Language of the Birds: Occult and Art80WSE Gallery, New York UniversityGroup
2015Kiki Smith: SeedUNT ArtSpace Dallas, University of North TexasSolo
2015Kiki Smith: SculptureChurch of Mary Magdalene, Alba, ItalySolo
2015Kiki Smith: Each DayJohn Davis Gallery, Hudson, New YorkSolo
2015Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the PresentSt. Petersburg: Museum of Fine Arts, St. PetersburgGroup
201540: The Anniversary ExhibitionHal Bromm Gallery, New YorkGroup
2015Bodies Burning at the EdgesLeroy Neiman Gallery, Columbia University, New YorkGroup
2015FlaeshGalerie Rudolfinum, PragueGroup
2015ArenaMike Karstens Galerie, Munster, GermanyGroup
2015The Mannequin of History: Art After Fabrications of Critique and CultureManifattura Tabacchi, Modena, ItalyGroup
2015Fractured: Works on PaperHelen Day Art Center, Stowe, VermontGroup
2014Kiki Smith - PathGalleria Continua - San Gimignano, San GimignanoSolo
2014Kiki Smith - WonderThe Pace Gallery - 510 W 25th Street, New York City, NYSolo
2014MigrationClaire Oliver, New York City, NYGroup
2014Good Night, Mister ProcrustesGalerie Steinek, ViennaGroup
2014A Brief History of PacePace Menlo Park, Menlo Park, CAGroup
2014The Disappearance of the firefliesCollection Lambert, AvignonGroup
2014No City Is An IslandThe Lodge Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2014GroundedThe Pace Gallery - 534 West 25th Street, New York City, NYGroup
2014The Age Of Small ThingsDODGEgallery, New York City, NYGroup
2013MortalMemorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NYSolo
2013Its Surreal Thing: The Temptation of ObjectsSheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NEGroup
2013Selected TapestriesMODERNISM, San Francisco, CAGroup
2013Witches & Wicked BodiesScottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, ScotlandGroup
2013Secrets of Sunset BeachTimothy Taylor Gallery, LondonGroup
2013One Of A KindGalerie Fortlaan 17, GhentGroup
2013Ladies & GentsSalomon Contemporary, New York City, NYGroup
2013Kill Two Birds With one StoneCharlotte Fogh Contemporary, AarhusGroup
2012Kiki Smith - Moments of ClarityBarbara Gross Galerie, MunichSolo
2012Kiki Smith: BeholdTimothy Taylor Gallery, LondonSolo
2012Kiki Smith - By the StreamGalleria Raffaella Cortese, MilanSolo
2012CrucibleAngles Gallery, Santa Monica, CASolo
2012Catching ShadowsGalerie Lelong - Paris, ParisSolo
2012I Myself Have Seen It: Photography and Kiki Smith Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art - SMoCA, Scottsdale, AZSolo
2012Visionary Sugar: Works By Kiki SmithNeuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NYSolo
2012Memories of the futureThe Olbricht Collection - La Maison Rouge, ParisGroup
2012Affinity AtlasRuth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, Clinton, NYGroup
2012Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic ImaginationGlenbow Museum, Calgary, ABGroup
2012CosmologiesWilliams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MAGroup
2012Kind of BlueLarissa Goldston Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012Dancing towards the EssenceKunsthaus Grenchen, GrenchenGroup
2011Kiki Smith: RitualsThe High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GASolo
2011Kiki Smith: DrawingsThe Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston, MASolo
2011MortalGalerie Lelong - Paris, ParisSolo
2009Sterling Silver JewelryBarbara Gross Galerie, MunichSolo
2008Kiki Smith: Touch of the Eye/Look of the HandWeatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NCSolo
2008Kiki Smith. Her HomeMuseen Haus Lange / Haus Esters, KrefeldSolo
2007Kiki Smith: ConstellationThe Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MOSolo
2006Kiki Smith - MomentLarissa Goldston Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2005Kiki Smith - A Cautionary TaleJohn Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CASolo