MUNICH.- For more than three decades, the American artist Kiki Smith (born 1954 in Nuremberg) has been creating a multifaceted body of work, in which she explores the political and social, as well as the philosophical and spiritual aspects of human nature. Unrestricted by cultural taboos or the limits of shame, Smith's analytical penetration of the body probes the conditions of human existence: age, death and dying, wounding and healing, wholeness and fragmentation, sexuality and gender, identity and memory. In addition to sculpture, Kiki Smith works in a variety of media, in particular drawing, etching and lithography, as well as books, photography and video. She employs a wealth of materials including bronze, plaster, glass, porcelain, paper, pigment, aluminum, latex, feathers, hair and beeswax.
Although Kiki Smith is present in the consciousness of an art-interested public, esteem for her work in European museums has mainly been expressed in smaller projects: at the Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover (1998); the Ulm Museum (2001); the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice (2005); the Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld; the Kunsthalle Nürnberg (2008); the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona (2009); and in the Palais des Papes, Avignon (2013). The exhibition at Haus der Kunst is Smith's first major museum presentation in Europe. The selected works interweave to create an overall representation of the artist's intellectual universe, with a focus on the sculptures from the beginning of her artistic career in the 1980s to her most recent works.
The title of the exhibition is etymologically derived from the Latin word "procedure," meaning "to pass by." Here it refers to a staging by the artist Francis Alÿs from the year 2002, in which Alÿs conceived the temporary removal of artworks from MoMA due to construction measures as "The Modern Procession." In Alÿs' staging, replicas of important works such as Pablo Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" and pieces by Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp were carried like relics through the streets of New York, with Kiki Smith - for many herself an icon of art - enthroned above their heads.
Smith's works from the 1990s depict individual human body parts in isolation: stomach, head, hands, intestines, or vessels containing bodily fluids like blood, sweat, milk and tears. Separated from the whole, they resemble archaeological finds or relics. It is the radical nature of the images and the magical, alchemical quality of the materials that make Smith's work unique. Through her devotion to the "drama" of the body - in particular the female body - the entire emotional spectrum of violence and vulnerability, of harmony and security, is present.
In these works, Smith employs various artisanal techniques including glass blowing, glass painting, porcelain production and processing, plaster casts, paper mache and felt work. With "Glass Stomach" (1985) Kiki Smith presents the stomach as a transparent vessel. The organic site of the chemical separation of nutrients and their transformation into energy is laboratory equipment for alchemical experiments. Smith describes her choice for using a particular material as "a useful way to think."
Based on these anatomical depictions, Kiki Smith's work has since developed into a universe populated by girls and women, hybrid creatures, animals of all kinds, plants and stars. With "Jersey Crows" (1995/2017), she commemorates 20 crows who became victims of pesticides and fell dead from the sky. Such an installation establishes a place of esteem for creatures whose habitat is threatened by humans, reminiscent of the rite of crossing over as well as preservation, coffins and Noah's ark. Smith examines our behavior towards creation, but her own attitude is clear: "One does not exploit any nature that speaks to one."
The exhibition lets these creatures pass by the viewer as in a procession. The various entities are often interwoven: a raven sits on the chin of a severed head ("Head with Bird II," 1994); a woman - the artist herself - holds a lifeless cat in her arms ("Pietà," 1999); another woman emerges head-first from a deer, as in a birth ("Born," 2002). One entire room in the exhibition is occupied by "Born," and a sculpture of a woman rising from the belly of a wolf ("Rapture," 2001), surrounded by Smith's tapestries. The encounters between man and creature express intimacy and familiarity. Overall, with Smith's creatures, the boundaries between man, nature and the cosmos become permeable.
The series of twelve tapestries is exhibited here for the first time in its entirety. On Kiki Smith's first trip back to Europe, the artist fulfilled her desire to see "The Apocalypse Cycle" tapestries, which Duke Louis I of Anjou had commissioned for his residence in Angers between 1377 and 1382. This 140m-wide tapestry depicts the visions of John's revelation. In her own series of tapestries, Smith tells a kind of creation story. Snake, wolf, raven, Eve, Adam, deer, mountains, rivers, sea and stars are woven into a confessional cosmos.
The exhibition is curated by Petra Giloy-Hirtz. The catalogue is published by Prestel, with contributions by Julia Bryan Wilson, Petra Giloy-Hirtz, Virginia Raguin and Ulrich Wilmes.