Kiki Smith, Hoarfrost with Rabbit [now titled Refuge], 2014, stainless steel
I trust my work. It’s a collaboration with the material, and when it’s viewed, it’s a collaboration with the world. What your work is resides in between those different spaces.
—Kiki Smith, 2005
Kiki Smith is one of the most inventive and intuitive artists of her generation. Her work engages with a range of narratives and is at once sensitive and raw, infused with a palpable energy that derives from dealing with issues of self, embodiment, and acts of becoming and being. The female human body is a prime subject of her work, but just as often she draws upon nature, especially in her depictions of animals such as wolves, birds, owls, rabbits, and hybrid creatures. The animals are often manifestations of the artist’s deep feelings for nature, which since 1990 has been her dominant source for images and a “world which I find most compelling space.”
Three years ago, the Hood Museum of Art and Dartmouth’s Public Art Committee approached Smith with a proposal to create a sculpture to be placed in the College’s burgeoning arts district. Carol Folt, provost and then interim president of the College at this time, had declared 2012–13 to be the Year of the Arts at Dartmouth, and the decision to pursue this project arose over the course of that academic year, which also marked the fortieth anniversary of coeducation at Dartmouth. The only other outdoor sculpture by a female artist on campus is by Beverly Pepper, who completed her north campus commission, titled Thel, in 1977.
Smith made her first visit to Dartmouth in 2012 and began to formulate plans for a work that would be sited on the Maffei Arts Plaza, adjacent to the Black Family Visual Arts Center, then in the final stages of construction. When Smith saw the site, she became “very interested in the idea of a float as a sculpture and imagined a series of pieces based on the nature of New Hampshire and the history of Dartmouth.” Her ideas evolved, always in response to the environment of the College, into a sculpture of stainless steel titled Hoarfrost and Rabbit, whose material evoked the reflective and refractive qualities of hoarfrosts and winter. She wrote:
I wanted to make a sculpture that would sit close to the sidewalk, so that it would be attractive and would invite people into the campus. I wanted the students and the larger community passing through the space, and also people on the street, to see it. I purposely made something that would be dynamic and used images that are accessible to the general public.
Brenda Garand, Professor of Studio Art at Dartmouth, serves on the Public Art Committee and recently echoed Smith’s sentiments:
It is so exciting to have the sculpture Hoarfrost with Rabbit by Kiki Smith permanently sited at Dartmouth College. Kiki is one of the most important and influential artists of the 21st century, and I often show her work to students. Now instead of looking at a flat image, we will be able to walk to her sculpture during class and discuss it.
This sculpture, along with Ellsworth Kelly’s commissioned work on the north side of Spaulding Auditorium, signals the strong presence of the arts on the Dartmouth campus and is a fitting tribute to the important role of creative thinking and imagination in teaching and learning within a liberal arts curriculum.