When you walk into a gallery, some works of art jump out at you. Now on view in 21st Century Women, a showcase of works by women artists created in the previous two decades, is Kiki Smith’s Companions. There is no missing the big, bad wolf in this large color lithographic diptych—making its debut appearance at HoMA. (The work was donated to The Contemporary Museum in 2009 by Sharon and Thurston Twigg-Smith.)
Anyone who grew up hearing the Brothers Grimm’s Little Red Riding Hood will find this work familiar. The left panel features a girl with a red kerchief on her head, and a basket in her hand. On the right panel, a large wolf faces the girl. The European fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood (it dates back to the 10th century—long before the Grimms got their hands on it) has a young girl set off through the forest to bring food to her sickly grandmother. Along the way, she is met by a cunning wolf, who, upon learning of the girl’s plans, travels to the grandmother’s house, where he eventually devours them both. In some versions of the story, the girl and her grandmother meet their fate at the hands of the wolf, while in other adaptations, they are rescued from the wolf’s stomach by a woodcutter.
Smith, the influential New York–based multidisciplinary artist, frequently appropriates and reimagines characters and imagery drawn from fairy tales and mythology for her sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints, and Little Red Riding hood has been a recurring character in her work since 1999. In the fairy tale, we automatically identify with the young girl who is in danger. Smith’s piece, however, suggests that the girl and the wolf, rather than being predator and prey, are “companions” on a journey. The wolf stands squarely in the center of his space, while the girl appears to move forward, confidently meeting the wolf’s gaze. The two characters resonate a symbolic affinity between female energy and the power of nature. The sense of equality and balance between them is strengthened by the compositional choice to split the work into two panels; the similarity in scale and placement of the figures; and by the repetition of the warm brown and rough texture of the girl’s hair, her basket, and the wolf’s fur.
Visit the Clare Boothe Luce Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art and let us know what you think of the work.
Kiki Smith (American, born 1954)
Lithograph diptych in 11 colors
sheet size: (girl) 54 x 33 inches / (wolf) 54 x 66 inches
Edition of 26
Published by Universal Limited Art Editions
© Kiki Smith and Universal Limited Art Editions, courtesy Pace Gallery
Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of Sharon and Thurston Twigg‑Smith (TCM.2009.23.166.ab)