Kiki Smith: Artist Portrait

Kiki Smith

Born 1954.
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Kiki Smith Biography

Born to acclaimed Minimalist sculptor Tony Smith and actress and opera singer Jane
Lawrence in 1954, in Nuremberg, Germany, Kiki Smith relocated to South Orange, New
Jersey, when she was still an infant. In many regards, Smith’s childhood was already
saturated with the art world, as her father’s friends, including Jackson Pollock, Barnett
Newman, and Mark Rothko among others visited the family home frequently, and, in his
own practice, he let his daughter help with some of his works. Ultimately, Smith enrolled
at the Harford Art School in Connecticut in 1975, but left after a year and a half to life in
New York City.

After her move, Smith initially supported herself through various odd jobs before
joining Collaborative Projects, Inc. (Colab) in 1978—an art collective dedicated to arts
accessibility outside the commercial gallery circuit. It was around this time too that she
began making her first formal works, monotypes of found objects. The death of her father
in 1980, however, led her to address more abstract themes such as death and the
transience of life. It also led to a brief time spent training as an EMT, which she
undertook to gain a more thorough understanding of the body, and, by proxy, its
limitations. Though she did not complete the course, her work reflects her experiences, as
body parts and depictions of organs can often be found in her oeuvre.

Smith’s first solo show was held in 1982 at the Kitchen Gallery, where she
presented figurative sculptures that were seemingly unfinished, or, alternatively, seen as
being in some way disfigured. The sculptures spoke both to her familial struggles with
illness, and her Catholic background, which she has described as being “obsessed with
the body.” Much of Smith’s oeuvre has used the body as an access point for greater
themes, such as Feminism and the AIDS crisis, though she herself does not identify a
consistent, linear thread between her motifs.

Today, Smith continues to live and work in New York, and her work is included
in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC; the San Francisco Museum of Art; and the Museum of Modern Art,
New York, among others.

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