I hope I get to make it to Brooklyn before Smith's "Sojourn" leaves the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Not only do I long to visit the museum I used to live across the street from; I can't wait to explore what Kiki Smith is doing these days with her exploration of women's life cycle.
The NYT art critic, Karen Rosenberg, claims that the setting of the Sackler Center detracts from the impact of Smith's work. "[W]ith its cryogenically preserved 1970s feminism in the form of Judy Chicago's permanent installation 'The Dinner Party'" positioning Smith in the Sackler Center does her "no favors." As a 1970s feminist not yet subject to such preservation techniques, I want to see for myself.
(Note to Ms. Rosenberg: as a technique, cryogenics is meant to preserve a body that has experienced demise from a disease for which there is not yet a cure but could be in the future. Perhaps the insights of 70s feminist artists have atrophied from the persistence of an illness--cultural blindness to the continued need for 20th century feminist art. Perhaps, in fact, they need to be preserved.)
The last exhibition of Smith's work I saw was nearly twenty years ago at the University Art Museum in Berkeley CA. MATRIX, as the exhibition was called, was mounted in Berkeley in 1991, the year of the first Gulf War. I was invited to lecture at the opening reception by the curator, Lawrence Rinder. At the time, like so many other times of political unrest, the campus was in the throes of an anti-war protest and Smith's work coincided with my teaching a course on Feminism and Militarism that year. My lecture drew together themes in Smith's exhibition of bodies and bodily imagery with questions about themes of conquest, both medical and military.
In so much of Smith's work, the body is evoked as what Rinder called "the common denominator of human existence." And Smith represents those bodies as, at once, universal and particular,filled with spirit; in other words, alive.
One brief excerpt from my lecture notes might evoke a bit of that exhibition's power to remember embodiment:
" 'Womb' , a solid bronze cast uterus, hinged on one side, and empty inside, beckons us to consider our dependent, humble beginnings in some (other) woman's body; its emptiness is haunting: open it and find everyone's 'before.' A politics constructed around what Hannah Arendt called the fact of our natality would have to be more humble than a politics constructed around the fact of our mortality. A politics that was aware of the body as something we all share, however differently, would have to reflect on the body as limit, on the fragility of the earth."
I am interested to see the "Sojourn" exhibition, and to see it at the Brooklyn Museum, across the street from where I used to live, but never far from my heart.