Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Pace Gallery, 545 west 22 St Kiki Smith “lodestar”, through June 19th

The sculptor/mixed media artist Kiki Smith is known for making very felt, personal and occasionally provocative objects and images.  She's having kind of a large installation at the Brooklyn Museum called "Sojourn", that's running through Sep 12th. I may try to get to that at some point, but this show at the Pace was closer, and I assume smaller. "Loadstar" is an installation of thirty white stained glass panels in thick metal frames that have been painted with lead. They're all about seven feet tall and are laid out rather elegantly on the gallery floor, so the viewer can walk through and around them freely. Viewers can also sit on one of a series of benches within the installation and contemplate the individual panels. The images painted on the glass are mainly human figures. An older women with short hair appears over and again, sometimes with a younger women and a man that seem to be her children. In some cases we find panels containing a younger woman painted alone that may be her daughter, or herself at a younger age. There's one of a woman giving birth, and one of an older woman (probably the same one) lying in a coffin. I think these are probably the most dramatic, as well as the most loaded images in the show. There's also a lot of depiction's of chairs, and birds painted on the glass panels.
Smith's use of materials is pretty original, and the installation of the panels is very aesthetic. But, there's something about the crude way she paints on the glass with the lead which seems very self consciously emotional, like she's trying to invoke some primal childlike scrawl which doesn't really read as authentic. I've always seen Smith as kind of a second rate Louise Bourgeois. That's not as insulting as it may sound. I think Louise Bourgeois is one of the greatest sculptors alive today. What I mean is that like Bourgeois, Smith likes to deal with the body, and primarily the female body. Her work is very tactile, and the tactile nature is supposed to communicate sexuality, sensuality, pleasure, and pain, both physical and emotional. It's just that Bourgeois communicates it much better. Also, like Bourgeois Smith likes to keep changing mediums, and she handles the medium in a way which sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fine art and craft. It's a way of infusing a kind of aggressive femininity into an art form that has traditionally been seen as masculine. I know I'm setting kind of a high bench mark with Bourgeois, but Smith doesn't possess the same sensitivity to the medium that she has. In this case the heavy industrial materials don't really lend themselves to the intimacy, and emotionalism that I think Smith is aiming for. Maybe it's suppose to be ironic or challenging in some way, but it just seems forced, and disharmonious, which to me is consistent with a lot of her other work that I've seen. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something.

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