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Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) presents Kiki Smith's first solo exhibition at a public museum in Asia, Free Fall from December 15, 2022 to March 12, 2023.
Smith, who occupied a distinct position in 1980s-90s contemporary American art with her deconstructive depiction of the body, is still working in her practice.
The show has taken the keyword “free fall” from the Seoul Museum of Art’s institutional agenda of “production” and exhibition agenda of “poetry” in presenting features of the artist that encompass aspects of a producer in multi-media experimentation, as well as those that have allowed her to vary her formative rhythms according to the undulations of the times. Smith has always chosen a non-linear narrative over a binary response between life and death, reality and ideals, material and ethereal, and male and female. Her attentiveness to “all things great and small” and casting a message of cohabitation with a deep, thoughtful breath are surely values worth paying attention to again today when phrases like “excess,” “inundation,” and “surplus” have become all too common. “Free Fall,” the title of a work produced by Smith in 1994, refers to the eruptive and vital energy as well as the wandering movement inherent in her work, bringing together the past forty years of her vast media experiments and artistic practice that engaged in weaving transcultural narratives that go beyond mere female-centric narratives. “Free fall” represents the dynamism implied in Smith’s research of the fragmented body, but it also reflects the performative stance that has enabled her to transcend the frontiers of media and concepts through a kind of roaming analogous to the moon’s free-falling orbit around the Earth. The exhibition introduces over 140 works spanning sculpture, prints, photography, drawings, tapestry, and artist’s books based on these features.
The 1980s in America were defined by a focus on human rights, equality, identity, and gender dialogue, as well as issues with AIDS and abortion rights. Against this backdrop, the art scene turned against minimalism or Abstract art, frequently considered as symbols of masculine chauvinism, and toward employing the body as art’s subject matter and material. Many feminist artists of this time rejected the dominant perspective that regarded women’s bodies as aesthetic objects and instead moved them into a space where their expression happened with agency. Meanwhile, Smith, who had lost some family members during this period, looked into the frailty and faults of existence. Her ways of thinking crossed the line between the inside and outside of the body as a result of this peeping, and with this attitude, spirituality and materialism were mixed. Smith, who explored the body in a non-hierarchical manner, became a pivotal character in abject art, boldly dealing with the segmented and fractured body as well as physiological fluids such as menstrual blood, perspiration, tears, sperm, urine, and other excreta. Her early works were inspired by her fascination with human anatomy, focusing on showing portions of the body, but this scope quickly evolved to include full-length figures as well as installation pieces. As the 2000s progressed, Smith began to write lyrical narratives based on popular fables such as Little Red Riding Hood and fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland, while also steadily widening the scope of her work to encompass subjects such as animals, nature, and the universe. Her macroscopic view, which allowed her to widen the breadth of her topics and iconographies, can also be found in her experiments with media.
This exhibition does not take a chronological approach or the existing prescriptive approach centered on modifiers that have surrounded the artist like “female” or “the body” in order to effectively tie together Smith’s journey of the past several decades, through which her formative grammar has differed for each period. Smith says she became interested in the body not just to emphasize the feminine in a new way, but “because it is the one form that we all share; it’s something that everybody has their own authentic experience with,” and it is this diversity of interpretations that served as a crucial starting point for this exhibition. Thus, the show presents three loosely connected themes based on aspects such as “narrative structure,” “recurring components,” and “energetic,” all of which can be seen consistently across her career, from her early works to her most current works. This looseness is deliberate, since it emphasizes Smith’s diversified formative language and the mechanism of its grammar while also allowing for various layers of interpretation. Smith has described her artistic technique as “walking around in a garden.” The term “responsibility” refers to the act of determining whether or not a person is responsible for his or her own actions. And today, this movement has been fully translated to the screen, with reverence for all life that is marginalized, inconsequential, or has yet to be reached. Smith states, “I am still in free-fall,” having gone through the 1980s-90s up to the present day, repeating to adapt and run opposed to the undulations of the times. Our intention is that this exhibition would allow the audience the option to discover a beginning point for their own tale while following the different motions of Kiki Smith that could be characterized as “free fall.”
Bo Bae Lee, Curator at Seoul Museum of Art, together with Minji Kim, Gyusik Lee, Jaehee Lee, Choi Seoyeong, Exhibition Coordinators
Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA)
61 Deoksugung-gil, Jung-gu