Kiki Smith at the Brooklyn Museum

When I walked into Kiki Smith’s Lodestar show at The Pace Gallery on 22nd Street, I immediately connected the work to Japanese scre

When I walked into Kiki Smith’s Lodestar show at The Pace Gallery on 22nd Street, I immediately connected the work to Japanese screens. After walking around each freestanding piece, I unconvinced myself of that connection. Lodestar felt like a collection of windows into different rooms without walls. Different rooms in the house of the alive, I thought. It wasn’t just the symmetry of the mouth-blown translucent glass — each stage of the human pilgrimage was rendered as a world in itself, reflected onto glass. In most of the pieces that contained them, light bulbs reminded me of dream catchers, leading me to wonder about relationships to light as guidance.

If Lodestar takes its cue from the North Star, are stages of a collective cyclical journey illuminated differently, due to a reliance on the body as compass? The drawings placed equal emphasis on eternal consolation and momentary despair. Although it’s not the first time Smith has applied the use of a grid, as a viewer, it’s the first time that a square shape has ever felt cyclical.

Kiki Smith, Pilgrim, 2007-2010. Leaded stained glass in steel frames. Installed in Kiki Smith: Lodestar, The Pace Gallery New York. © Kiki Smith. Photo by G.R. Christmas, courtesy The Pace Gallery.

The counterpart to Lodestar is Sojourn at the Brooklyn Museum, where it remains until September 12, 2010. Lodestar at The Pace Gallery has closed, but the Brooklyn Museum’s Sojourn was installed with such indelible thoroughness, it made me forget I was in a museum. But that’s her artistry — tirelessly adept at working through her themes with freshness. Contemplated and elegant but never overworked.

That unmistakable simplicity that blooms in her careful hand has been described as transforming. But transportive? With Sojourn, creativity transports itself from body to body. Creative awareness shape-shifts from sparks of childhood wonder and marvel, through the decisive nature of a fully matured creator. The essence of creativity is addressed in Sojourn as spirit transcending body; and as work transcending confinement/domesticity. With Visitation of the Bird I, the composition is typical of domestic scenes in Annunciation of the Virgin Mary paintings. Instead of Gabriel’s wings, the angel’s presence is in the familiar bird of Smith’s world, wings wide, in annunciation of discovery eternal: the miracle of rebirth in the creative process. I didn’t notice a single regurgitation of the ‘muse’, this installation bypasses historical objectifications of the creative spark.

Kiki Smith, Visitation of the Bird I, 2007. Ink, graphite, colored pencil, mica, glitter and collage on Nepal paper, 87″ x 85″ (221 cm x 215.9 cm). © Kiki Smith, Courtesy The Pace Gallery, New York. Photo by Ellen Labenski/Courtesy The Pace Gallery, New York.

Despite spare and strategic use of colour, Smith’s work is mostly characterized by muted palates of earth-tones and rich blacks. Aside from one colour photograph (also in muted tones) two pieces highlighted the every day experience of colour: Her Bouquet and Singer. Two site-specific installations by Smith in the nearby period rooms make it seem like her allegorical figures have wandered and settled into a common staircase, a nostalgic parlor.

This work negotiates the inherent tensions among nostalgia, history and the present moment. With Sojourn, Smith addresses the space Virginia Woolf names in the seeking of room, in the claiming of a solace in which to produce. But Smith delivers this space as parallel to human rites of passage: birth, life, death, presence, love, motherhood, friendship. In this manner, Smith asserts visually that fertility knows no boundary; be it physical or transcendental. In Smith’s work, to have a body is to have access to the spiritual. Perhaps ultimately, the best companion to human existence is that creative essence igniting all other relationship. For this, art seems in direct service of gratitude. And in order to experience, and live out this gratitude, all you need you already have: a body and the infinite inventiveness of discovery.

Kiki Smith Sojourn Installation: Walking Puppet, Major Henry Trippe House Chamber Staircase. Papier-mâché with muslin, 80″ x 30″ x 40″ (203.2 cm x 76.2 cm x 101.6 cm), overall. © Kiki Smith, Courtesy The Pace Gallery, New York. Photo Courtesy Brooklyn Museum.