Shotgun Review

From New York: Kiki Smith: Sojourn

By Lea Feinstein September 15, 2010

In Toraja, Indonesia, sculptors carve tau tau’s –wooden effigies of the dead that watch over loved ones and ensure a successful harvest. Kiki Smith invokes similar powerful spirits in her installation Sojourn at the Brooklyn Museum. She portrays departed family members as sentinel figures in cast aluminum and in life-sized drawings which are big as bed sheets and transparent as skin. The sculptures, with their enigmatic, generalized features, relate back to the works of Marino Marini and Giacomo Manzu.

Primarily Sojourn depicts the arc of a woman’s life, and is meant to reflect the symbolism of the creative process. Steeped in Catholicism and European art history from an early age, Smith draws on traditional scenes from the Christian liturgy. She casts her own mother as the main character in a visitation and annunciation in aluminum (Annunciation, 2008.) In the lovely life-size drawings, Quickening, and Quickening Also, both from 2009, she is round-bellied and beatific. Mother, 2009 is a Pieta, in which an older woman with cropped hair and lined face cradles the prone figure of a dead man. In Words pass through me now, 2010, the pose is repeated, but the prone figure is a young woman with Kiki’s features. Most powerful of all are the entombment works in the last gallery. A dying old woman in hospital garb, her hands and feet desiccated and limp, is depicted in Mortal, 2007, a series of woodblock prints. With great economy, they evoke a pathos similar in feeling to the German Expressionists. A pine coffin lies open on a table, glass flowers sprouting from its floor, and empty chairs made of papier-mache are scattered beside the walls like so many mourners.

Kiki Smith Sojourn Installation view- Gallery 6A
All artwork: © Kiki Smith, Courtesy The Pace Gallery, New York
Photo Courtesy the Brooklyn Museum

Repeated, similar depictions suggest that Smith used transfer techniques or projection, as well as direct drawing. She has said of her use of repetition, “I think there’s a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries.” 1 But repetition for its own sake has a numbing effect, and the show would have benefited from stringent editing.

In this work, we sense that for Kiki Smith, the physical act of drawing—stroking the paper with pencil or crayon—not only creates the contours of each portrait, but functions like touching; lovingly recreating the faces and bodies of the departed ones.

 

 

Kiki Smith: Sojourn was on view at the Brooklyn Museum from February 12 through September 12, 2010.

 

 

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NOTES:

1. Zelmati, J.: "Kiki Smith collection premiers at MOMA". The Daily Princetonian, December 11, 2003

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