Born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1954 and raised in New Jersey, Kiki Smith grew up working with her hands from a young age, quilting, knitting, sewing, and often helping her father, the American minimalist sculptor Tony Smith, assemble models for his sculptures. Her early familiarity with materials had a profound effect on the way she works: her sculptures demonstrate a thoughtful and intimate use of material. In a 2004 review in Art in America of her print retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, critic Faye Hirsch wrote, “More than any other artist working in print, Smith has brought out in the medium a kind of physicality that is not its most ready association. No matter how surreal the presentation—breasts as moons or faces as stars—the works never entirely shed their material origins, and it is in this materiality that Smith seems to find relief from mortal constraints.”
Though she is best known as a sculptor, printmaking is central to Smith’s work. She has made prints using every possible process, from rubber-stamping to photocopying, and understands the activity of printmaking symbolically. “Prints mimic what we are as humans,” she has said. “We are all the same and yet everyone is different. I also think there’s a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries.”
Early in her career, she exhibited her work in the groundbreaking Times Square Show of 1980. Her first solo show was at the Kitchen in New York two years later. Since then, Smith has accrued international prominence and has had major solo exhibitions in countries as diverse as Denmark, Israel, Ireland, and Italy. Her work is in the collections of museums around the world. In 2006 Time magazine featured her in its thematic issue “100 People Who Shape Our World”. In the featured article, Chuck Close, alongside whom she exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the winter of 2006, called Smith “one of our greatest artists.”
Kiki Smith’s 2003-04 print retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Prints, Books and Things, showcased the scope of her printed art. Her 2006 retrospective of more than two hundred works, Kiki Smith: A Gathering, opened at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and traveled to the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Smith participated three times in the Whitney Biennial and five times at the Venice Biennale, including the 2017 edition. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017 was awarded the title of Honorary Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and a Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center, New Jersey. Other awards include the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 2000; the 2006 Athena Award for Excellence in Printmaking, Rhode Island School of Design; the 2009 Edward MacDowell Medal; the 2010 Nelson A. Rockefeller Award, Purchase College School of the Arts; the 2013 U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts, conferred by Hillary Clinton; and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center, among others. Smith is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and New York University. She has taught printmaking courses on and off at both schools since 1998. Smith has been represented by Pace Gallery in New York since 1994.
-Rachel Lyon, Crown Point Press
Kiki Smith at Crown Point Press, 2006 (3 minutes)
Artist Kiki Smith discusses making an etching at Crown Point Press in San Francisco.