Kiki Smith says there are no ideological messages in her sculpture and drawings, even if others find feminism or environmentalism there. Since 1990 she has mainly depicted female figures with animals such as deer and wolves.
"I don't think like that. It's not what I'm interested in doing," said Smith, 58, who last month was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences with luminaries such as Hillary Clinton, Clint Eastwood, and Melinda F. Gates, but didn't attend the ceremony. "I'm just making things to see what they look like."
Smith's bronze sculpture, "Her," will be part of the Artlantic project, and will sit in the middle of a red-themed garden inside one of the 14-foot berms constructed on the Pinnacle site, formerly the site of the Sands Casino Hotel. It depicts a nude woman holding a deer from under its forelegs. The deer leans into the woman, its legs dangling, almost in the position of a child.
Smith was born in Nuremburg, Germany, but grew up in northern New Jersey, the daughter of sculptor Tony Smith. She has been to Atlantic City only once, she said, and that was many years ago. Her first return to the city will be for the park's unveiling.
But she has a sense of how important the Boardwalk and ocean are to the city.
"The Boardwalk functions as a promenade. Most places don't have promenades anymore," she said. "That's where people used to be presented socially. It had a profound function."
She hopes the public art at the Pinnacle site will help to strengthen the Boardwalk's role in building community. Her own community in New York City is extremely important to her, she said.
Smith said she created "Her" in 2003, and it has been sitting in a community garden in New York City.
Atlantic City Alliance President Liza Cartmell said it would have been great to have a new piece commissioned for Artlantic, but there wasn't enough time. As she understands it, Cartmell said, the red garden, which Smith designed with the help of landscape architects at Balmori Associates in New York City, represents lifegiving blood.
"She focuses on red, and tends to focus on the pulse of life - blood as the nutrient of life," Cantmell said. "Her female form is a self-portrait, an opportunity to place herself in connection with nature in the middle of a garden. "
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey art professor Jedediah Morfit, himself a sculptor, said Smith's influence has been profound. She was one of the first major sculptors to return to figurative art, depicting real figures and objects. For decades the abstract approach was dominant, he said.
She is known for working collaboratively with other artists, and for working in a wide variety of media, especially drawing and printmaking.
Morfit said her work sometimes has been controversial, especially earlier in her career.
"It was very body-oriented, and dark scenes. It was deliberately not pretty, but debased and rough," Morfit said, with seams deliberately left showing. Some pieces depicted body organs as subjects.
He sees her work as extremely feminine, but not in a delicate and decorous way.
"It's very much like the female spirit, animated by passion. It's an Earth Mother feel rather than a decorative one, the image of the goddess in its darker forms," Morfit said. That includes fertility, sexuality and motherhood.
Smith said she didn't consciously decide to do figurative art, but followed her work where it wanted to go.
"Everything in my life just happens," she said. "I had no interest in the representational, other than I enjoyed it in other people's work."
Although issues and ideology don't drive her art, they are important to her.
"Every right-minded person would of course say they are feminist. It's part of a human liberation movement," she said. And she recognizes that the relationship between humans and animals she has explored in her work reflects a basic relationship to the environment.
"It's interpersonal to me," she said, of the animal-human relationship. "It spills over into our respect for individuals and our relationships to other living and nonliving organisms."
For more on Smith, who was featured in the Art in the Twenty First Century program on PBS in 2003, visit pbs.org/art21/artists/kiki-smith.
Born: Nuremberg, Germany, in 1954. Age 58. Raised in northern New Jersey, now living in New York City.
Known for: Sculpture, painting, photography, bookmaking, drawing, and printmaking that focuses on the female form, often depicted with animals; the body, including its internal organs; figures from classical mythology and folk tales. Life, death and resurrection are frequent themes.
On Artlantic project: 'The Boardwalk functions as a promenade.That's where people used to be presented socially. It had a profound function.' Smith hopes the Pinnacle site and her sculpture, 'Her,' depicting a woman holding a deer, will encourage community cohesion through enjoyment of the public space.