The Dark Wonder of Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith
Photograph by Nan Goldin, 2006. Courtesy of

Every successful work of art produces a sense of wonderment.  It allows you to see the things from a different perspective, opens your eyes to new experiences, and challenges old notions.  Through manipulation of materials, forms, and ideas, a galvanizing work of art can alter consciousness by engaging your sensory perception, to elicit emotions, memory, desire, and possibly even, social awareness.

One of my favorite artists who continually inspires wonder is Kiki Smith.  Since the 1980s, New York artist Kiki Smith has exhibited her sculptures, drawings, and prints internationally in museums and galleries.  She explores many themes in her work that relates the female body to the natural world of animals and plants, the religious imagery of Catholicism, and the erotic underpinnings of children’s fairy tales.  She produces sculptures in the form of deer, wolves, and birds.  She crafts glass sculptures of breasts and bronze statues of ugly, naked human figures in awkward postures, which simultaneously attract and repel–sometimes there is something sublime in the grotesque, something beautiful about being imperfect.

In 2010, Smith teamed up with master perfumer Christoph Ladaumiel  to create “Kiki,” a woody floral that is reminiscent of “cat-pee and plant sex,” according to the copy.   Housed in a glass bottle with silver drawings of stars, Kiki is a woody floral perfume made in an edition of 4000 bottles.  As much as I love Smith’s art work, her perfume lacks edge–it’s a very classic fragrance, like the Guerlain Mitsouko that Smith apparently loves to wear.  Its notes of chamomile and narcissus make it feminine, and the sandalwood, boxwood, and patchouli are warm and inviting.  Though it’s not terribly challenging as a work of art, it’s a wearable scent by one of America’s most important living women artists.  Get it while you can from Artware Editions and the New Museum Bookstore for $175.

Kiki by Kiki Smith.
Little Mountain (1993-96). Multiple of cast glass, overall (irreg.): 3 3/16 x 4 1/16 x 2″ (8.1 x 10.3 x 5.1 cm). Publisher: A/D Editions, New York. Fabricator: Saro Stanley, Cambridge, MA. Edition: 150. John B. Turner Fund. Image courtesy of © 2012 Kiki Smith

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