Sunday, August 7, 2016

Kiki Smith - Woven Tales

Tony Smith (1912-1980) was famous for his large geometric steel sculptures. While they could be very effective in a sculpture garden, I cannot say I was ever really drawn to them.  For me they were too cold. Not true of his daughter Kiki (1954- ) who was born in West Germany and came to South Orange, New Jersey as an infant.

Kiki Smith has gone in a different direction as an artist.  Her subjects involve sex, birth and regeneration.  In the late 80’s and 90’s after the deaths of her father and her sister she addressed such subjects as AIDS, gender and race.  In recent times her focus has been the human condition in relation to nature.

For me Kiki Smith’s work has been rather haunting and I cannot make up my mind if the exhibition I saw on its last day at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe was haunting or enchantingly beautiful.

Kiki Smith, together with another of my favorite contemporary artists Chuck Close (1940-), known for his over life size portraits, has revitalized the art of tapestry weaving by turning their digital work into textiles using a programmable loom.

Chelsea Weathers wrote in Art Forum that in Kiki Smith’s talk at Peters Projects she cited the medieval French Apocalypse Tapestry and the weavings of the “hippie movement” as examples of the long tradition to which the eleven tapestries in this show belong.  To make the tapestries she scanned her mixed media collages to create over 9 foot tapestries and programmed a Jacquard Loom to weave a draft of each composition.  She made several revisions as she refined her technique making the images in the words of Ms. Weathers “Other Worldly”.  That is what I believe attracted me.

I have discussed before that you can make up your own mind as to what an image represents and means.  Kiki Smith gave single word titles to her woven images and did not want them on walls next to the hangings so they would not interfere with their visual impact.

Taking four of them chronologically, the first is called “Sky” 2011 and is the least atmospheric, with a figure that appears to me to be more under water than in the sky.  One of my art history teachers in college was an artist and I drove him most days to school and home again.  I remember being in his studio when he was going to have a gallery exhibition and he had all the work done but had not put titles on the pictures, so we rushed around his studio slapping names on the backs of the paintings.  I do not know Kiki Smith’s methodology but it does not matter.  While I am looking at a work of art it is mine and no one else’s, and I am free to decide what I am looking at.

In “Underground” 2012 I thought that the naked man was entwined in tree limbs or roots, but was the artist thinking of some kind of hell since it is underground.  Who knows?

To the artist “Spinners” is clearly about webs, but to me it’s like a light show with moths and bursts of light in between, maybe turning them into butterflies.  At least that is what I see.

Last but not least, “Harbor” 2015, water, rocks and soaring birds.  Are they circling for prey or have they spotted a carcass or is it just a beautiful day to circle around the rock?  There are stars there are clouds is it night or day?  So much to wonder about.

There are ten  tapestries in each edition at the pricey figure of $75,000 each, but if you hang one of these on your wall you don’t need anything else to occupy the space

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