The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Modern Art Oxford opens 'Kiki Smith: I am a Wanderer'
Kiki Smith, Crashed Bat, 1998. Courtesy Pace Gallery. Photograph by Tom Barratt, courtesy Pace Gallery.

OXFORD.- Kiki Smith (b. 1954, Nuremberg, Germany, lives and works in New York, USA) is a pioneer of contemporary printmaking and sculpture who has created a materially experimental and multifaceted body of work that explores the political and social aspects of human nature. I am a Wanderer is Smith’s first solo UK institutional show in 20 years, and represents a rare opportunity to experience her rich and vividly imaginative practice.

Presenting over 80 works, selected in close collaboration with the artist, this exhibition focuses on three key areas of Smith’s practice. There are the large-scale tapestries produced between 2012 and 2016, a selection of small-scale sculptures dating from 1985–2015 (presented in dialogue with photographs that capture her larger sculptural installations), and a room of prints chosen from over 30 years of the artist’s innovative printmaking practice.

Opening the exhibition with 12 large tapestries, made using an electronic Jacquard loom, Smith conjures up her own visual universe populated by a menagerie of wolves, cats, fawns, owls, spiders and women as goddesses – all woven together in a vibrant, ethereal harmony. Accompanying this otherworldly beauty is a seriousness of message, however. Smith says: “We are interdependent with the natural world… our identity is completely attached to our relationship with our habitat and animals. I make things from images that catch my attention.” In the manner of a subtle, poetic environmentalist, Smith communicates through art and beauty to remind us that it is mutual respect between humanity and nature that will secure the survival of both, and the planet as a whole. It is an urgent message in a world waking up to the impact of climate change and the destruction of species and natural resources.

In the smaller galleries, visitors encounter a Wünderkammer, “a cabinet of curiosities”, in the form of miniature sculptures in a myriad of forms and materials. Figurines in porcelain and bronze can been seen alongside compelling evocations of the body including a concrete skull, a tiny brass mask, and a clenched porcelain fist. A collection of hybrid creatures and natural phenomena are also displayed including a glass frog, a porcelain dead cat, a silver shooting star, Octopussy – half-cat, half-octopus tentacle cast in bronze, and the poignant Crashed Bat cast in bronze with piercing ruby gemstone eyes. Displayed alongside these works are photographs of her human-scale installation works.

The final gallery presents 20 prints produced over 30 years. In this room, fantasy, bodily realism, metaphor, magic and myth merge disquietingly. Some narratives allude to known fairy tales such as the enigmatic Pool of Tears II (2000), based on Lewis Carroll’s manuscript drawings for Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1886), in which a young girl leads a parade of half-submerged animals through water with a steely and yet quizzical determination. Other prints display the accuracy and exquisite detail of anatomical and botanical studies, and yet an allegorical quality pervades, as if everything is not quite as it seems.

Modern Art Oxford’s Director Paul Hobson says: “The city of Oxford, with its medieval heritage and strong tradition of fantastical literature, exemplified by C.S. Lewis, J.R. R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll, is the perfect host for an exhibition so rich in storytelling and mythology”. Kiki herself affirms, “I am a wanderer,” and it is with this spirit of wanderlust that she journeys through time and space, making “contact” with and borrowing from many cultures and historical epochs on her decades-long creative journey. Modern Art Oxford is delighted to be sharing the fruits of this visionary journey in this long-awaited glimpse into the intriguing world of Kiki Smith.

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