The Accessible and the Mysterious

Kiki Smith Lilies 2006

Her mind chases an idea across different materials and mediums. For example, the figure of Saint Geneviève was a fixation of hers for a while; she repeatedly captured the pious figure, often posed with animals, in drawings and sculptures. In fact, the use of animals in this series led the German-born, New Jersey-raised artist more deeply into nature as a subject. What’s interesting about Smith’s mind-—as much as we can know about it through what it creates—is how it moves forward through compulsions. There’s a propulsive quality to her curiosity; even when it revisits tropes or images or her own personal “vocabulary,” the impulse is part of a quick-shooting trajectory. She’s guided less by ideas and intellect, more by intuition and attentiveness. Of her recent work, she said, “I’m drawing pictures of owls and trees and stuff.” [Kiki Smith in conversation with Heidi Julavits]

Robert Gober September 12, 2005–9

Mr. Gober stands at the forefront of a generation that emerged in the 1980s and devised new ways to fuse the personal and the political, the accessible and the mysterious. His art is a sometimes subtle, sometimes furious protest against what might be called delusions of normalcy; the sexual, racial and religious prejudices these delusions engender are examined at their point of origin, the childhood home.
He has communicated these themes in shifting ratios of folk art, Surrealism, Pop Art, Magic Realism and Social Realism, leavened by doses of the body and performance art of the 1970s. There are moments of eerie trompe l’oeil, as in his cast wax legs or torsos with individually applied hairs, which jut startlingly from walls and corners, like phantom limbs or parts of bodies otherwise crushed by buildings. [Roberta Smith on Robert Gober]

Kiki Smith Self Portrait 1993

“I take it as a base assumption that I’m not good at making things. I am not making great things, and then I think, “So what? I need to make them, I want to see what happens.” In art at least, you are stopped by whatever you want to stop you. Nothing is stopping you. Some people are stopped because they’re not good at drawing. I’m not particularly good at drawing either, and I’m terrible at sculpting, but I really love the struggle. I love fighting it until I get someplace where I can say it’s okay. Sometimes I look back on things and just cringe at how bad they are. But I made up strategies for myself where it wouldn’t matter. I thought of that saying, Exploit your—not your disabilities, but—your deficits….
… I always laugh, because I think about my father’s work and my work being influenced by that. My father’s work is like complex monotheism, because it’s monolithic but it changes on all sides and you can’t — I mean, he has ones that are in parts, but a lot of them are very singular, and the singular ones can’t be read from just one side. But if I can make a drawing with two things in it, I’m really ahead of the game. Any regular old painter can make whole backgrounds and foregrounds. I can make a single thing, you know, one picture of one thing, and that’s it. I collage them together. But I love altar painting, sequential narratives, or Egyptian friezes; things where there is implied movement and narrative, friezes of activity, like a single frame or like film strips, a single image with a narration…” [Kiki Smith in conversation with Christopher Lyon]

Robert Gober Untitled 2017

What claims our attention are not so much Gober’s quotidian subjects as the intentness with which he reconstitutes ordinary objects; this is his way of possessing them. Gober’s laconic perfectionism lends humdrum stuff an eeriness. I feel that eeriness in the subtle shadow play he reveals in his plainly carpentered closet, in the delicacy of human hairs inserted into the wax surface of a sculpted leg, and in the trompe l’oeil finesse with which he paints the label on the battered Benjamin Moore can. Gober keeps his virtuosity tamped down and under wraps. His weird world is constructed with the meticulousness of a jeweler putting together a Fabergé egg.” [Jed Perl on Robert Gober]

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