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KIKI SMITH (B. 1954)
KIKI SMITH (B. 1954)
KIKI SMITH (B. 1954)
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KIKI SMITH (B. 1954)
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KIKI SMITH (B. 1954)

Mary Magdalene

Details
KIKI SMITH (B. 1954)
Mary Magdalene
incised with the artist's signature, number and date 'Kiki SMITH 1994 3/3' (left edge of the proper right foot)
cast silicon bronze and forged steel
60 x 20 ½ x 21 ½ in. (152.4 x 52.1 x 54.6 cm.)
Executed in 1994. This work is number three from an edition of three.
Provenance
Pace Wildenstein, New York
The Ors-Doron Sebbag Collection, Tel Aviv
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 16 November 1999, lot 7
Private collection, San Francisco
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 2008, lot 541
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
H. Posner and D. Frankel, Kiki Smith, Boston 1998, p. 135 (illustrated).
M. Vicente, "Un mundo natural," Lapiz, February 1998, p. 135 (illustrated).
C. Close, "Kiki Smith," Bomb Magazine, no. 49, Fall 1994 (illustrated in wax phase of casting process).
Other Worlds: The Art of Nancy Spero and Kiki Smith, exh. cat., Gateshead, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, 2003, p. 67 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Kiki Smith, February-April 1995, pp. 4 and 8 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Lübeck, St. Petri-Kuratorium, Kiki Smith: Werke 1988-1995, January-February 1996, pl. 19 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Wasau, Margaret Woodson Fisher Sculpture Gallery at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Contemporary Sculpture: The Figurative Tradition, June 1997-May 1998, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Hannover, Kestner Gesellschaft, Kiki Smith: All Creatures Great and Small, September-November 1998, p. 78, no. 5 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, February 2006-February 2007, p. 177 (illustrated in color).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, The Tears of Eros, October 2009-January 2010, p. 253 (illustrated in color).
Washington, D.C, National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2010-2018 (on long-term loan).



Please note this artwork has been requested for the forthcoming Kiki Smith solo exhibition at the Nacionalni muzej moderne umjetnost (Museum of Modern Art), Zagreb in November 2021 - January 2022. The show will subsequently travel to Gallerija Umjetnina (Museum of Fine Arts), Split in February - March 2022.

Lot Essay

A powerful monument to unyielding resilience, Kiki Smith’s 1994 Mary Magdalene is among the pioneering sculptor’s most important works. Often turning to timeless themes when commenting on the present, Mary Magdalene finds Smith zeroing in on one of the most frequently depicted women in the history of Western art. Magdalene, a reformed prostitute who became one of Jesus Christ’s most loyal followers, is cited as the archetypical redemption story. Often shown as either repentant, during Christ’s life, or languished, after his death, Magdalene is also an icon of female piety, devotion and, indeed, suffering.

In depicting Magdalene, Smith adheres to the longstanding pictorial tradition dating back to the Medieval and Renaissance periods of depicting the saint as an abstemious and tortured wanderer following Christ’s death. A chain, broken at the tenth link, drags behind her, attached to her right foot by a shackle. Her anguished face looks toward the sky and her long, straight hair cascades downward, eventually blending into her similarly hairy body, taking influence from German sculptors such as Tilman Riemenschneider.
Favoring immediately recognizable themes as vehicles for exploring timeless facets of the human condition, Smith introduces questions of memory, loyalty and deeply engrained gender dynamics. As Magdalene treks ever onward, Smith introduces the possibility that she remains haunted by her previous life, and questions the veracity of the oft-repeated redemption arc so prevalent in morality stories from the Bible to the present day. Her broken chain, replacing her usual attribute of an ointment jar, reflects the lingering ghosts of bondage too substantial to entirely cast off. Her allegiance to Christ, the defining characteristic in her life, is here imagined in terms of contemporary attitudes toward gender dynamics.

Indeed, Smith’s Magdalene updates and recontextualizes centuries-old ideas of narrative representation. Mary Magdalene becomes a sort of every-woman whose unique personal journey can be grafted onto any number of contemporary stories. Still, it remains instantly recognizable to those familiar with Medieval and Renaissance depictions of the saint, stopping short of parody or appropriation. Smith’s primary concern is in updating and evaluating the human desire for redemption and self-improvement, and whether or not such goals are truly achievable. Preferring to leave that question unanswered, Smith traffics in the moral ambiguity essential to the very morality tale she engages with.

Mary Magdalene is a powerful symbol of the contemporary feminism, alien to the original generations of artists who canonized her and turned her into a mainstay of Christian art. Her humble defiance, a powerful gesture when it was executed in 1994, is even more relevant today. Smith, an icon of third-wave feminism, remains a razor-sharp social critic whose work continues to evolve with mercurial and sometimes regressive social trends. Magdalene, one of the most iconic and timeless figures in the Western canon, receives a timely and prescient update at Smith’s skilful hand.


Vivian Brodie, Associate Director, Private Sales
Email: vbrodie@christies.com
Tel: +1 917 679 9536

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