“YOU have to hit the ground running,” the artist Kiki Smith said recently, referring to her process. “You have to have multiple things happening, so you’re not just standing around.” It’s hard to imagine this is much of a risk for Ms. Smith, 56. So far this year, at least, she has hardly stood still.
Having recently completed a 20-year, $18.5 million restoration, the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, will unveil the new rose window — seen in a recent rendering — in the early fall.
A week after the February opening of her solo show “Sojourn,” which continues through Sept. 12 at the Brooklyn Museum, she flew to Munich to finish painting a series of stained-glass panels for “Lodestar,” an exhibition opening at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea on April 30. This month she went to Seattle for the opening of “I Myself Have Seen It: Photography and Kiki Smith,” a survey of her photographs and sculptures, including works in glass, which runs through Aug. 15 at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington. And in her spare time, such as it was, she worked with the architect Deborah Gans to fine-tune their design for the new 16-foot-high east window of the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side, scheduled for completion this year. Even seated for an interview in her East Village town house, Ms. Smith molded clay as she talked. (“If I don’t do something, I’ll faint,” she explained.)
As phones, e-mail messages and doorbells sounded a variety of ringtones, and as assistants darted in and out, Ms. Smith, an artist who works in a variety of mediums, appeared intensely focused as she talked about what has become one of her favorites, glass.
A daughter of the minimalist sculptor Tony Smith, Ms. Smith said she grew up aware of glassworks by the artist Christopher Wilmarth, a friend of her father’s. But while Mr. Wilmarth and other artists of his generation “were all mostly working with industrial glass,” Ms. Smith said that early in her career she was drawn to blown and solid glass, which at the time — the mid-1980s — suffered from what she called “a tremendous cultural bias since this type of work was considered craft and really dismissed.”
Ms. Smith studied at the Experimental Glass Workshop in Little Italy (now UrbanGlass in Brooklyn) and has also participated in residencies — and more recently taught — at the renowned Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle. But she does not consider herself a master. She can do the painting for stained glass, she said, “but blown glass is a real craft and not something you can just pick up.” When she needs help, she enlists the support of top craftspeople.
Over the years cast glass, blown glass, Schott crystal, fluorescent tubing, lamp glass, industrial sheet glass, mirrors and stained glass have found their way into Ms. Smith’s repertory, which, in keeping with her work in other mediums, includes depictions of human organs, body parts, animal menageries, fairy tales, revisionist religious figures, raindrops, moons, stars and even her friends.