MY NATURE: WORKS WITH PAPER BY KIKI SMITH

St. Louis Art Museum

Smith has not left herself out of these investigations into the animal, the natural, the universal. Works sprinkled throughout the exhibit incorporate her own image or the form of the female body. But in the context of all these other works, they read differently than they otherwise would. They don't look like warmed-over body art; they come off as much more interesting attempts to reconcile the inner self with the outside world, perhaps, or the desire to find connections to nature in a human world increasingly detached from it.

An untitled sculpture of variegated copper-covered body parts, which is owned by the museum and has enjoyed lots of exposure already, takes on a new look in this exhibit. It seems more than ever like an archaeologist's find, a strange fossil collection waiting to be tagged and cataloged. "Las Animas" (1997), a photogravure montage of images of various parts of the artist's body, would in another context look like nothing more than a '70s-era feminist conceptual piece; here, the animal quality of the images comes to the fore, and the work benefits from it.

In all, My Nature: Works with Paper manages to reframe Kiki Smith's work, suggesting a remarkably subtle and allusive artistic sensibility. They far surpass the expectations set up by her more notorious works of the early '90s. Fortunately, they move beyond the inherent limits of body investigations and delve into far more interesting territory.

Kiki Smith, "Pet," large-format ink-jet print, 22 by 30 inches, 1999
Kiki Smith, "Pet," large-format ink-jet print, 22 by 30 inches, 1999

My Nature: Works with Paper by Kiki Smith is on view through Jan. 23.

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