"The Smiths: Tony, Kiki, Seton," Dec. 3, 2002-Mar. 23, 2003, at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, 601 Lake Avenue, Lake Worth, Fla. 33460.
The Abstract Expressionist sculptor Tony Smith's home was his studio, and his eldest daughter Kiki Smith, who was born in 1954, and her sister Seton Smith, born a year later, were very much part of his creative process. They not only witnessed their father at work in their rambling and sparsely furnished suburban house in South Orange, N.J., they were part of the process. For Tony regularly gave them the after-school task of making cardboard and toothpick models of tetrahedrons and other geometric forms that would later become his minimalist monuments. "My father just raised us to be his assistants," jokes Kiki. "We were like educational experiments."
Needless to say, the two girls grew into accomplished artists in their own right -- eerily, both had their first exhibitions in 1980, the year their father died -- and the Paris-based curator Gilbert Brownstone has now organized "The Smiths: Tony, Kiki and Seton" at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art. It's a smart, articulate show, ingeniously installed in the sparse, industrial interiors of the Palm Beach ICA (which used to be a movie theater, and consequently features a large exhibition hall and a more intimate balcony space).
The present exhibition is the first time the Smiths have ever been shown together. Brownstone simply calls it a long-overdue reunion, saying "It is a chance to see what unites this great family of artists." The lines of esthetic kinship are difficult to make out, at first, though the museum provides something of a guide on its invitation card, which features a work by each artist: Tony Smith's Cross (1960-62), a kind of 3D geometrized Celtic cross; Kiki Smith's Eve (2001), a small cast-resin figure of a long-tressed, naked woman raising her arms in supplication; and Seton Smith's Black Bowl with Two Handles (1997), a color photograph that shows a blurred silhouette of an antique vase (a Greek kantharos?). All three images, though quite different from each other, speak of mystery and magic.
Outside the museum, Tony's monumental black steel Duck nests on a grassy plot across the street, while inside, another of Tony's large steel voids, The Keys to Given (1965), is paired with one of the artist's paintings, an equally sculptural blue, yellow and black abstraction from 1962-63. The show gives ample space to the senior Smith's many modular drawings, done in charcoal and marker pen in several series, and a side gallery contains an impressive grouping of several smaller modular sculptures.
Kiki Smith's feminist "body art" is represented by several major sculptures, including the emblematic Untitled III (Upside Down Body with Beads), a bronze female nude surrounded by several arabesques of glass beads representing pee, and the 2001 Moon with Crutches, a trio of three prone female figures in silvery aluminum propped up by lopsided armatures of bronze lath that comprise a kind of latter-day crucifixion. Her mischievous Pieta, a drawing ink on Nepal paper of a woman with a (divine?) cat in her lap would not be inappropriate as a PETA poster, while her deliciously funny Untitled bronze from 1992 shows a squatting female with arms outstretched in a debutante's curtsey. Upstairs in the mezzanine are several recent etchings of animals, and even a portrait of a sleeping friend in profile, that show an impressively delicate accuracy.
Seton Smith's color photographs are often blurry and soft-edged, to indicate that the images are constructions of memory and desire, and depict fragments of architecture, landscape and interiors that have a distinctly otherworldly cast. In the accompanying catalogue, the Los Angeles critic David Pagel notes that Seton's photographs have a wistfulness and timeless perfection that articulates something that is both elemental and deeply emotional -- "unpredictable instants when our minds drift away from what we are supposed to be concentrating on and go nowhere in particular."
"I don't really have a solid idea about sculpture," Kiki said at a public discussion that accompanied the opening of the exhibition. "It's just some things that come together temporarily -- like family, maybe -- and then go back to being separate things"
Under director Michael Rush (and with the support of museum patrons Robert and Mary Montgomery), the Palm Beach ICA is making a name for itself as a place for adventurous contemporary art programming. In 2002 alone, the museum put together first-ever U.S. museum surveys of work by Gunther Brus, Fred Tomaselli and Sue Williams. Forthcoming is a look at the collection of Miam Beach photo collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl (Apr. 12-June 15, 2003), and the ICA's new "Media Jam Biennial" (Mar. 12-Aug. 15, 2004).
JOYCE CARUSO CORRIGAN writes about art and culture.