Friday, May 7, 2010

Kiki Smith: Sojourn

Thursday night was a busy one for me, but I managed to zip up to the Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway to catch the tail end of the American High Style opening party in time for two quick glasses of bad Chardonnay and a scurried look at the new exhibition.

The fashion was lovely, to say the least. I'm still a little unsure of the overarching theme of the show other than "The Brooklyn Museum Is Now Partnering With The Met's Costume Institute And Look At All Of The Pretty Clothes We Have Now", and it seemed a bit small to be all that cohesive in terms of American Fashion-- but we loved the shoes, the gowns, and the big fashion house names. Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, and Biambattista were all represented in their full regalia. Rachel should have been there, she would have loved it.

Like I said, the fashion was great. Really, really pretty. But what I'd rather discuss is the Kiki Smith exhibition just in the next wing. As usual, I have more to say about art than I do about fashion.

The last time I saw a Kiki Smith solo show was at Minneapolis's Walker Art Center in 2006. It was dark, VERY dark, but worked with a sickly fascination that college girls crave. That exhibition, titled A Gathering, included umbilical cords hanging from the ceiling, vats of 'puss', 'urine', and 'saliva' on a solid ledge, women's portraits covered in hair, and one remarkably memorable sculpture of a deer birthing a woman.

It was gruesome, indeed, but absolutely had purpose. Her sculptures were rooted in folklore, in Western biblical tradition, and in sharp focus with her own experience as a woman in the male dominated art world of today. In the end, it wasn't shocking (good art never is!) but it was significant.

So, last night upon entering her current exhibition, Sojourn, I felt the need to warn my fellow viewers that Kiki Smith's work can be, um, disturbing. Disturbing and weird, I think I so articulately put it. However, much to my surprise (and delight), Sojourn was quite the opposite. While A Gathering was dark and solemn, Sojourn was light and transient.

Smith's newest works are a self described 'exploration of womanhood'. One need not look further than the materials themselves to get this strongly driven point-- her materials include needlepoint, tissue paper, paper mache, glitter(!!!), and silk flowers. She uses these, shall we say, 'flimsy' tools to trace themes of womanhood from cradle to coffin.

The mystical and religious symbolism are once again present, most literally translated in her works The Annunciation and The Immaculate Conception. Paper mache light bulbs dipped in glitter hang on fishing line. Gold leafed birds drip stars in their wake on sculptures made of toothpicks. Life sized portraits of women seated with their mothers watch us with wide eyes and eighteenth-century expressions of solitude. It's what I imagine women on the prairie always looked like. Unhappy, but strong.

We wound our way around the thin white paper held up with pushpins to the coffins sprouting tiny glass flowers, transfixed with Smith's quiet reflections on a life's journey. While her tone hasn't shifted since her days of Wolfgirl, her execution clearly has. Was it mind blowing? No. But perhaps it wasn't supposed to be. It was, in the least, a nice contrast to the fashion in the next wing over-- a quiet, white world in the midst of all that female distraction.

1 comment:

Mach1 said...

1.) All those designers you mentioned are not American, so what makes something "American" fashion? Give me 5,000 words by tomorrow.

2.) Why is good art never shocking? Many paintings we shrug at today were very scandlous when they debuted.

3.) I like that sculpture you have a picture of.