The Brooklyn Museum‘s two shows opening on Feb 12 exemplify the institution’s strengths. Kiki Smith: Sojourn, installed in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art through Sept. 12, is a focused selection of large drawings, sculptures, and mixed media work plus playful installations in the museum’s period rooms. To Live Forever: Art and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, situated on the ground floor through May 2, draws from the museum’s extensive, prized Egyptian collection.
Smith drew inspiration for this group of works, curated by Catherine J. Morris, from a silk needlework piece by Prudence Punderson called The First, Second and Last Scenes of Mortality, 1776-83 (Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford), on display here. The scene, set in a parlor, shows birth, adulthood, and death, and is apparently a rarity for depicting a woman in a creative endeavor, alongside an enslaved female of African descent, who stands by a bassinet. Smith picks up on motifs in the historical piece—chairs, coffins—and the somewhat stifling domestic interior is eerily echoed in the period room installations. Here, the artist places full-size papier mâché figures with oversized heads in a bedroom, a salon, and on a stair landing, as well as painted glass works and small bronze figures that become camouflaged in their old settings.
The thrust of Smith’s installation is a series of drawings on crinkly, delicate, ecru Nepal paper, often pieced to form larger areas, and hung in two long galleries divided into chambers. Ink, pencil and glitter drawings of solo or grouped women (in various states of contemporary, casual dress) predominate, plus recurring imagery of birds, chairs, and clouds of sticks resembling nests either clustered in a lattice or dispersing. Charmingly rough-hewn sculptures of these objects are situated or hung throughout, plus a series of flowers painted on mirror. In the final chamber sits a coffin holding glass flowers, surrounded by literal and figuratively dark works on paper, a resounding parallel to Punderson’s early composition.
To Live Forever shows funerary trappings of Egyptians, from nobility to the commoner. The exhibition includes primarily smaller treasures—from the beloved aqua-hued hippo to an elegant bird-shaped palette for kohl—plus sarcophagi and several exemplary, small stelae for good measure. Organized by Edward Bleiberg, curator of Egyptian art, this show should entice people to visit the museum’s some 1200 Egyptian artifacts upstairs, a real treasure trove.
Image: Kiki Smith. Walking Puppet, 2008. Papier-mâché with muslin. 80″ x 30″ x 40″ (203.2 cm x 76.2 cm x 101.6 cm), overall. © Kiki Smith, Courtesy PaceWildenstein, New York. Photo Courtesy the Brooklyn Museum. Installation is in the Major Henry Trippe House on the Chamber Staircase (Period Room).