“They’re like leaves from Kiki’s own Book of Hours,” said the bi-continental curator and art dealer Simon Watson after previewing, via the tiny screen on my digital camera, Kiki Smith’s new show at the Neuberger Museum. “And the color,” he added. “She’s taken her work to a whole new level.”
Simon was talking about three large (ca. 9 x 6 ft.) Jacquard tapestries, titled Earth, Underworld and Sky, which are filled with Smith’s mystical folk imagery: female and male figures, flora and other fauna, constellations. The velvety texture of the tapestry, Smith says, brings attention to “the preciousness of being on earth.” They were woven in Belgium and published by Magnolia Press in Oakland, Ca.
The exhibition, titled "Visionary Sugar: Kiki Smith," also includes a variety of sculptures -- hanging cast aluminum bas-reliefs of stars, clouds and planets; a sitting cast aluminum figure, its hand raised in a gesture of blessing, titled Annunciation; starbursts made of cast bronze with gold, silver and Japanese leaf; and flat bronze wall pieces that show a woman -- easily a stand-in for the artist herself -- surrounded by clovers and large snakes, titled, somewhat mysteriously, Teaching Snakes. The bronzes were made at the famous Walla Walla Foundry in Walla Walla, Wa.
The snake is Smith’s birth sign in the Chinese zodiac, someone said, and “Visionary Sugar” is a nickname given her by a former lover, according to another. “Not a lover,” said Smith, but she would reveal no more. A larger exhibition of these works is scheduled for the Mario Merz Foundation in Turin in October.
“Visionary Sugar: Works by Kiki Smith,” Feb. 4-May 6, 2012, organized by Helaine Posner, at the Neuberger Museum of Art, 725 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, N.Y. 10577