Kiki Smith’s large-scale sculpture Near, a gift of Dorothy and George Saxe and the Friends of New Art, reinterprets David, Joanna, and Abigail Mason (1670), attributed to the Freake-Gibbs Painter, a holding of the de Young’s American Paintings Collection. Elements of the piece also evoke the unconventional layout and dramatic copper skin of the de Young building itself.
Reflecting her ongoing interest in representations of women and women’s bodies, Smith’s piece incorporates the images of Joanna and Abigail Mason from the painting using gilt and copper leaf. In the painting the two girls are wearing red coral jewelry, which was used as a talisman against evil or death. Smith’s images of the two girls recall milagro or santos religious tradition, in which votive images are used as intermediaries for supplicants seeking divine intervention. These elements resonate with the religious imagery in the original painting.
The sculpture consists of a cast-aluminum framework that resembles an unfolded cardboard box, echoing the distinct nature the de Young’s design. This metal framework surrounds the Freake-Gibbs Painter images and hangs suspended adjacent to an arrangement of hand-blown glass teardrops.
This new commissioned work will be the first large-scale sculpture by Smith to enter the permanent collections. Other works by the artist currently in the holdings of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco include 21 prints and a 1993 drawing Untitled, which is a promised gift of Dorothy and George Saxe.
As a leading force in American contemporary art, Kiki Smith’s work is varied in both subject and medium. With a specific focus on the human body, especially the female form, Smith often incorporates religious imagery and references to folktales in her acclaimed sculptures, prints, photographs, and multi-media works. Employing materials as diverse as glass, bronze, ceramic, beeswax, fiber, and human hair, Smith blends the line between art and craft and addresses important societal issues such as the marginalization of women and personal spirituality.
Smith’s work was the focus of a comprehensive solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in 2003. Kiki Smith: Prints, Books, and Things showcased the scope of Smith’s printed art, presenting it thematically, with a focus on such topics as anatomy, self-portraiture, nature, and female iconography.