Kiki Smith returns to the Roman gallery Lorcan O’Neill with a new body of works, presenting all-bronze sculptures alongside some small-scale paintings. The exhibition opened on 31st May 2022. It brings the Mediterranean culture, with its myths and rituals, to the fore. The artist breathed it during her visits to Greece that culminated in her solo show at Deste Foundation, Hydra, in 2019.
For the first time in her career, Smith presents sculptures entirely made of bronze, challenging herself in this complex endeavour. The exhibition, indeed, took years in the making, and it involved long walks around the Greek myths and periods of reflection in her studio. ‘I am an old fashioned artist,’ affirmed Smith, ‘I need time in my studio to produce works.’
The show follows a continuous juxtaposition between the material, sometimes even abject, and the ethereal, spiritual; between a liquid fable and a grounded reality. The statue of a Capricorn, the artist’s zodiac sign, welcomes visitors to the show, introducing us to this polarity. The glyph of this sign, indeed, is that of the Sea Goat, having the hoof of a mountain goat, and the tail of a fish. Traditionally, it represents human wisdom and illuminated achievements coming from the depths of the ocean. In a way, this seems to summarise Smith’s research and her attraction to both a stable dimension and a more fluctuating one.
The mythological and astrological references do not cease here; they develop across Siren and Enchantment, two sculptures of mermaids cast as thin sheets of bronze. Marked and traced by lines drawn in relief, they become a symbolic self-portrait of the artist. Both have Smith’s facial features and flowing long hair. Yet, they also bear some animal features: goat forelegs and fish tales. Moreover, a constellation of stars cover their bodies, strongly recalling Smith’s own tattoos.
There is one element which almost disturbs this sublime vision, albeit always rooted in a heavy material such as bronze. It’s the cast of a goat intestine, presented in two sculptures, Divination – Fire, and Divination – Faith. Smith produced this in Hydra, where she visited the Deste Foundation slaughter house, which hosted her exhibition ‘Memory‘. Undoubtedly, the image of animals getting slaughtered with their blood flowing all the way down to the sea marked the artist. Even so, the sculptures maintain a certain poetry, creating a tension with their abject nature. Bronze, then, the strong material in which all sculptures are cast, becomes in the artist’s hands the medium to tell a symbolical tale.
Finally, the polarity between earth and sky beautifully culminates in the last piece of the exhibition path. This began with Capricornus and Winter and was followed by mermaids, comets, and paintings of cosmic energies. At the end, we find Horizon, a bronze sculpture cast from the section of a tree trunk with two lenses inserted at eye level. As we look through them, we find our vision turned upside down, inverting earth and sky and merging together these two forces.