ALL ARTS Documentary Selects


Women Artists - Kiki Smith

This four part mini-series explores the lives and work of female stars of the contemporary art world: installation artist Annette Messager, conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, large-scale sculptor and painter Katharina Grosse, and printmaker and sculptor Kiki Smith. At the center of all four of their careers is the tension of expressing ideas about gender without being defined by it.

AIRED: August 18, 2020 | 0:26:19

[ Gunshots ]


Narrator: Art by women is dangerous.

Why are their works worth less on the art market?

Why do almost all museums worldwide exhibit

far fewer works by female artists?

Where are all the women?

They are there, and they have always been there.

Women artists have liberated the female body

from male ideas of beauty.

They have conquered new paths and taken many risks.

In this series, women artists introduce other women artists.



The curator of today's episode is Kiki Smith.

Okay, you can have that.

I know you're not supposed to exist.

No one exists besides me in the world.

Narrator: With a traveling maquette in our luggage,

we visit her in Ireland,

where the New York artist is working at the moment.

Here, she creates an exhibition

with works by other female artists,

which are going to be introduced in a virtual space.

Kiki Smith is one of the most important artists

of her generation.

Since the early 1980s, her art has been shown

in more than 25 solo exhibitions around the world.

Her oeuvre inhabits an infinite bandwidth

of mostly figurative motifs, which she imbues with life

using a wide variety of materials and mediums.

Sculptures, glassworks, drawings, and tapestries

constantly demand new artistic approaches and work processes.


Kiki: One of the reasons probably for me why I like doing

all different kinds of things --

the different things take different kinds of energy.

And I like that certain things take a long time to make,

and they have their own trajectory

where you couldn't know when you began

where you would end up.

Narrator: The human body with all its fragility

became the subject of her work in the beginning of the 1980s,

triggered by the AIDS crisis

and the early death of one of her younger sisters.

Like an explorer,

she first studied the internal spaces of the body.

Later, she examined its shell,

as well as those functions which determine life and death.

She turned the inside out mercilessly.

Kiki: In general, my work is wandering.

Like, I'm a wanderer.

You know, in terms of material

or in terms of what engages me at a given moment,

it really wanders around.

To me, the point about art, in a way,

is to give people more options.

Narrator: Through her occupation with myths and fables,

the spectrum of her attention shifted and expanded.

The borders between humans, nature, and animals

became fluid.

Kiki: The last couple years

my attention has been towards images of nature

and spending more time in the countryside.

My initial idea was to invite people

that worked with the images of nature

but then also made things out of the natural phenomena.


I had the idea to make pairings --

two or three people together so that you have an experience

and sometimes that you could use things,

juxtapose things against one another,

something in relationship to one another

where the things keep their autonomy.

Like, they keep their separate being-hood or something,

but also can reverberate a little bit

or play a little bit with one another.


Narrator: Magdalena Abakanowicz was born in Falenty near Warsaw in 1930

and is Poland's best known contemporary female sculptor.

She initially worked with textiles

but went far beyond traditional tapestries.

In her own weaving technique,

she processed materials like sisal, burlap,

and horsehair into oversized, relief-like shapes

that hung from the ceiling,

her Abakans.

Her groups of often headless giant sculptures

embody isolation,

but also individuality within the mass,

which simultaneously protects and imprisons

each and every one.

None resembles the others.


I'm very attracted to these very big, brutal pieces of hers

because, you know, I knew her work --

figurative work much more.

All of these pieces are very wonderful, I think,

that have this kind of brutalness to them.

Abakanowicz: [ Speaking Polish]

Interpreter: "Giver" is part of the cycle "War Games."

I never used wood.

I somehow thought of wood as a self-contained matter

that I didn't want to touch.

But when I stumbled upon a pile of felled trees,

I was enchanted by their physicality,

their eroticism, their personality.

I decided to intervene in their personality, just minimally,

and with metal.

Abakanowicz: [ Continues speaking Polish ]

Kiki: I was at the dentist a month ago,

and then he had a catalog of her work.

It had these pieces from this King Arthur series,

and then it had this one that's --

I don't know if it's a moth or a butterfly,

but that was the one that I thought

it was really fantastic.


If you have this sculpture in a certain way,

it's hard to have something else in the room.

Maybe something could go in the room,

but maybe it just goes by itself.

You know, that's a perfect sculpture.



Narrator: Pat Steir creates illusions of waterfalls

solely through gravity.

With her abstract works,

the American painter, born in 1940,

captures the time it took to make them.

Paint itself forms the painting.

It's temporal and spontaneous,

and, you know, it's an interaction

that is a time-based activity interaction,

but where you're making some kind of movement,

and then you choose to make another movement.

You know, and you don't know where it goes.

You know, it's not prescribed. The end isn't prescribed.


Steir: When I was in art school,

I couldn't understand what abstraction was.

It's taken me a lifetime, really, to understand it.

I think of painting as a research.

I'm not a product maker.

I'm a researcher.

There is a moment for art when it's in its moment,

and then people can see it.


Kiki: These are both in a certain way nice

because they both very much do come out of process --

intent and process.

Or maybe this way -- what about that?

Pat Steir,

Magdalena Abakanowicz, and Seton Smith.


Narrator: Seton Smith is Kiki Smith's younger sister.

As artists, they each have pursued a very different path.

Seton's medium is photography.

Their distinct creative powers originate in shared roots.

Their mother was the actress Jane Smith,

and their father was the architect and sculptor

Tony Smith.

My father was an architect,

and so that was something that influenced me personally.

And there's a formality to the work

that I think I have in my work, as well.

My sources were architecture already from the beginning

and landscape, as well.

And I moved into photography because I thought

rather than looking at the style of the painting,

that people could look at the ideas behind it instead,

and so that's why I started really using photography --

that it was more about a conceptual idea

than a literal painting style.

She has these double, like a diptych that go together

and, you know, maybe the camera shifts slightly,

but it makes a movement.

Like, she has these ones of two heavily laden trees with snow,

or one of the heavy forest ones could be nice with that.

You know, then it just gives a kick.

You know, things should give a kick to each other

without being too intrusive.

Those are big, so we'll have to see

a little bit where there might have to put --

-Mm-hmm. -That seems sort of okay.

That seems maybe like a good dimension.



One of my most favorite spaces in the world,

or places where I saw art, was in...

just the balance between nature, space,

that the space only relies on natural light

and is only open in the springtime or in summer,

that there are no guards, that the integrity

of each architectural space is very unique.

And that's, like, my model fantasy

of how to make a space.

And, you know, it's spare and very simple and natural light.

I wanted natural light.


And then the second would be

Geneviève Cadieux and Adelle Lutz.


When I first met her,

this was the piece she had just made

and it really was the best thing I saw that year.

She used her mother and her father

and I think her niece and nephew.

You know, she used all the people in proximity to her.

And I thought, I like very much that --

like, I really like, you know,

the idea of creativity and community.

It's a photograph of her mother's lips

when her mother was in her 60s, I think.

And it's above the Modern Museum in Montreal.

And then Montreal wanted to give a present to Paris,

and they gave these lips as a mosaic in the Underground.

And it's a large mosaic

in the Metro, and it's very beautiful.

And then now there's a stamp.

You know, I like that idea that you make --

you have this intimate experience of making something,

and then it sort of goes out in the world,

and it has all these different manifestations

that would have been unexpected

to your initial impetus of doing something.




I thought, that's a very beautiful piece

because it's of the sky and a bruise.

You know, so they're both natural --

impermanent, natural phenomena.

Yeah, I think something like that would be really nice.

And then maybe let's look up what size Geneviève's is.

That's a hard thing to put something in the room with.


Narrator: The American actress and costume designer Adelle Lutz

uses clothing like a canvas.

She brings the inside to the outside,

playing with the attribution's given to bodies and objects

and reduces them to absurdity.


Kiki: You know, she made suits of grass --

men's clothing and women's clothing --

like an artifact.

♪ It's all me My face is a book ♪

♪ But it's not what it seems

♪ Three angels above

♪ The whole human race bring us to life ♪

♪ Bring me a...

Kiki: So then it was very vivid and green,

and then, you know, when it dried out and aged,

then it got very, you know, like dead grass,

and so it's very beautiful, you know, like fall.

Maybe that could go on a stand or something like that?

I don't know if it could stand out in space.

We'll stick it here for now,

but that's a funny room with so...

Like memento mori or something like that.

Like a remembrance or something, but it's very calm.



And the third would be Roni Horn and Lee Bontecou.


Narrator: One of the main themes in the work

of the American artist Roni Horn

is similarity and difference.

These photographs were mostly shot in Iceland.

They examine the influence of natural phenomena

on appearances,

which in turn partly influence our perception.

Roni Horn works in a variety of media,

ranging from tech sculptures

to installations to drawings.

Her drawings are very enigmatic in a way

because you don't really understand the decision-making.

To me, it's always really the most fascinating people's work

is where, like, I have no idea how they get there,

like, or why or what it is or why.

And it's interesting to know things about artists

and to know their personal story and everything.

But it's also...

If you make something you have to, like, you know,

throw it out the door,

and it has to kind of take care of itself.

It has to have enough resonance to survive, you know,

which maybe is not important,

but to survive it has to have enough resonance in itself.

Narrator: Roni Horn's great fascination with water

is also a strong current in her work.

"What do you know about water?

When you talk about water,

aren't you really talking about yourself?

Isn't water like the weather that way?

What do you know about water?

Isn't that part of what water is --

that you never really know what it is?

Ah, what do you know about water?"

Narrator: Roni Horn dedicated her piece

"Gold Mats, Paired -- for Ross and Felix,"

to her prematurely deceased friend Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

It consists of two layers of gold leaf,

one superimposed on the other.

The purity of that piece is so beautiful,

and also that thing of two layers touching,

'cause I always think about, like,

where the sky touches the earth, you know, like that touch,

like, just to have two things that are,

you know, like a blanket or something.

Two things touch one another.

You know, her work is very clean,

and I admire that.



Lee Bontecou made these big pieces of wire and canvas,

and, you know, they were a little bit like Inuit

and like airplanes, and all her work

has this sort of primal and, like, sci-fi to it.

And she stopped showing publicly her work for many, many years.

And then, you know, maybe about 10, 15 years ago,

there was a big exhibition of her work,

and it was so spectacular

because, you know, she had continued to work,

and her sculpture is incredibly inspirational.


She really knows how to use the light in drawings,

but also all of this movement.

I mean, these relate also to sculptures of her

with these teeth.

You know, so it has this ominousness,

but it also has all this motion.

This piece, "Untitled" --

they're very much like a constellation,

like something moving in its own orbit.

You know, they have something like an orbit about them.

I don't know other people that made sculptures like that.

They're extremely unique to me, her work.

So this is just this little --

so that's quite little, but that can hold a room, also.

You know that's the thing -- art --

you know, if you make something,

it needs to be able to survive.



And the fourth would be Frida Kahlo

and Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Frida Kahlo's little postcard that I brought with me,

which is actually good for this show,

'cause it's all this nature --

you know, nature and energy of nature.

You know, so that's something where it's very specific,

but then these other things are, in a way,

things that are very open and enigmatic.


Narrator: The sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard

builds monumental sculptures in a variety of materials,

though always based on her roughly wrought cedar surfaces.

Yet cast in bronze or glass,

they may appear surprisingly tender.

Her abstract, organic, and voluminous creations

exude sensuality and tactility,

while they're laborious evolution is palpable.

Cedar is very soft.

von Rydingsvard: It's sensuous, and it's a wood

that yields more easily than many other woods.

You can get a surface out of it

that enables you to try to enter places like,

"Can I make this feel a little like fabric in the wind?"

Our use of the circular saw is very unorthodox.

The way we cut is like nibbling.

We nibble away almost as though it were an animal of sorts,

and it's the way that I get the surfaces

to look as organic as they look.

I don't think one will see a straight line

in any of the cuts.

That would be actually really nice inside.

That will be great.

They would be good if they could be like that.

That is the sculpture, but it would have to be

in some kind of virtual reality, really,

because, you know, that's a big piece,

so it has to be in the wall, you know?


That would be great with that piece 'cause it's just like...

You know, it has so much movement, and it's so powerful,

and it has so much movement in it,

and it would just be nice with this thing of Frida Kahlo

sitting in the chair after the fact.


Then we could go to this room --

Marisol, Valerie Hammond, and myself.


Narrator: The American sculptor and painter Marisol,

who died in 2016, became famous in the 1960s

for her groups of painted wooden figures.

Because of the era in which they were made,

these colorful works were often associated with pop art.

However, Marisol Escobar did not like her work

to be pigeonholed, or herself.


[ Man speaking French ]

[ Speaking French ]

Narrator: The large oeuvre of this shy artist,

which also contains paintings, drawings, and prints,

had almost faded into obscurity.

Kiki rediscovered her work at a printing workshop.

Marisol had made this print using the Catalpa leaves

in the yard of the print shop.

So, you know, for me, that was --

it was really shocking

'cause it was very sexual, in a way,

and then also using these found objects

from just what was outside where you were,

by making just direct impressions.



Narrator: The objects and prints

by the American artist Valerie Hammond

seemed to have sprung from a fantastical world

of an enraptured view of nature.

Kiki: Valerie Hammond is a friend of mine.

She has been extremely influential in my life.

We're both really avid printmakers,

you know, both very fond of Emily Dickinson and...

the sort of wonder in life,

wonder version of life.

And she had these two little pieces,

these two little dresses of --

one of the sky and one of a rainbow.

I mean, I can show you on my phone.


Yeah, originally, it was like that,

that they were hanging,

and maybe they could be doing that and then twirl.

That's what I could imagine.

I could stick one of my shiny silver things there.

Marisol, Valerie Hammond, and myself.

I don't know. Something has to...change.

But maybe it will be okay.






  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv


World Channel
Vienna Blood
Under a Minute
The Talk: Race in America
The National Parks
The Light
The Cardinal’s Files
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
Talking Pictures with Neil Rosen
Shall Not Be Denied
Room Tone
Reel 13
Prehistoric Road Trip