What I Saw on the Road
What I Saw on the Road is Kiki Smith’s first solo exhibition at a public institution in Italy. It is a small show in the Pitti Palace’s Andito degli Angiolini, and it is ostensibly an “exhaustive overview” of Smith’s “more recent output, the result of an in-depth change in her expression and style” in the last twenty years. The exhibition is framed as a “splendid fairy tale” of nature in which the primary players are animals and where hierarchies have been abolished, but where, simultaneously, a woman’s “revolutionary energy” is unleashed. Intriguingly, one of the curators has described the show as an invitation to reflect on the “precious vulnerability” of the human condition in relation to the complexity of life.
As curators Renata Pintus and Eike Schmidt note, in the 1990s Smith became known for her sculptural works depicting bodies, particularly female bodies. Indeed, Smith made her mark with abject feminist sculptural works such as Blood Pool (Art Institute of Chicago, 1992), a painted bronze sculpture of a young woman, or girl, curled up in the fetal position. A row of teeth protrudes from her spine, suggesting, perhaps, an oral fixation and a transgression of the boundary between inside and outside of the body that characterized early 1990s abject art.
Although the curators remark that in these more recent works Smith “goes outside the body,” there are several human figures, almost always nude, represented in What I Saw on the Road. Most are young and female, although there is one nude male subject as well. The exhibition includes approximately forty artworks, encompassing brightly coloured jacquard cotton tapestries, bronze, silver, and wood sculptures, and works on paper. The tapestries are the most compelling works in the show by far, in part because they take up the most space, but also because they recall Smith’s earlier engagement with bodies in order to unveil complex human experiences and fears.