An esthetic from Catholicism

The American artist Kiki Smith (born in 1954) fascinates the world of contemporary art (see her exhibitions at the Venice Biennale before last or on the island of Hydra at the invitation of collector Dakis Joannou) with a visual vocabulary that is unexpected to say the least, influenced by an aesthetic traditional to this part of the world, that of Catholicism, with its churches, stories and manuscripts.

Spiritual

That’s not to say that Kiki is a religious zealot, or that the images she creates in three dimensions are very conventional. Not at all. This spiritual woman with long white hair and a childlike gaze even admits being attracted to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Monnaie de Paris

But like all good artists she draws on a source to create something very personal, as shown in the beautiful exhibition at the Monnaie de Paris, where Camille Morineau is curator.

Imagery of women

Her imagery therefore features women first and foremost, women who could be the Virgin Mary, but also her friends. Kiki was raised surrounded by women: her mother and sisters. Her father Tony Smith (1912-1980), the famous American sculptor, taught far away, she says.

Supernatural manifestations

She has created a world of drawings, bronze sculptures, and tapestries that touch upon supernatural manifestations. The exhibition opens with a female Christ from 1995, slumped over with a thick head of hair.

Bronze heroines

Later Kiki conceives a series of bronze heroines from imaginary stories, like the figure in a long dress sleeping on the floor surrounded by placid animals, or the one dressed in men’s clothing with a shaved head – a reference to a friend of hers who underwent chemotherapy – which greets visitors right at the end of the view at the Hôtel de la Monnaie.

The Apocalypse tapestry

One of the most beautiful rooms features a group of eleven tapestries in reference to a medieval treasure, the “Apocalypse Tapestry”, a set of embroidered works from the years surrounding 1375 on view at the Château d’Angers. She combines, as she explains, “the Middle Ages, the crazy 1920s and hippy art”, to address what happens underground, between heaven and earth, and above all in her imagination…

 

It’s in this room that I interviewed her.

 

Kiki Smith. Until 9 February. www.monnaiedeparis.fr

The Kiki Smith exhibition will be the last to be held at the Monnaie de Paris, which is shutting down its contemporary art program

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