Kiki Smith – the cat himself knows – Raffaella Cortese Milan – february 17 – may 18, 2023 – opening on february 16.

Galleria Raffaella Cortese presents three solo exhibitions by renowned American artists Simone Forti, Joan Jonas, and Kiki Smith, opening on February 16, 2023. Each of their decades-long practices of experimentation across different media can be united through their common interests in and study of the human body, the animal kingdom, and movement as a vital force. Animals in particular have inspired a number of Simone Forti’s works across photographs, drawings, and performances since the late 1960s; they have made appearances in nearly all of Joan Jonas’ multimedia installations and have been the subject of countless drawings of hers; and finally, cats and pigeons are the main protagonists of the sculptures and drawings exhibited as part of Kiki Smith’s latest show at the gallery.

Kiki Smith’s fifth solo show with Galleria Raffaella Cortese, The Cat Himself Knows, presents for the first time a number of recent works by the acclaimed German‑born American artist.

« The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

It isn’t just one of your holiday games;

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,

Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,

Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—

All of them sensible everyday names.

There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,

Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:

Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—

But all of them sensible everyday names,

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,

A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,

Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,

Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,

Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,

Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum—

Names that never belong to more than one cat.

But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,

And that is the name that you never will guess;

The name that no human research can discover—

But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,

The reason, I tell you, is always the same:

His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:

His ineffable effable


Deep and inscrutable singular name ».

— T. S. Eliot, The Naming of Cats

When she started to develop her public art project for ArtLine Milano, Smith first thought of pigeons, a quintessential presence in the city’s most famous square, Piazza del Duomo, but it’s a short walk away that the artist found the subject chosen for her two monumental bronze sculptures Guardiane. After seeing the cats living in the moat of Castello Sforzesco, Smith decided that they would be the protectors of the city. Following the unveiling of her Guardiane in 2022, Smith continued to work on the chosen subject – cats – in her series of drawings Empath. Feline figures are accompanied by pigeons, squirrels, trees, and abstract grids and lines, creating a polyphony of animals one can imagine inhabiting an urban landscape, a private home, or – in this case – the gallery itself. At the center of the exhibition space in via A. Stradella 4, a number of sculptures of cats and pigeons are instead joined by colorful figures of hands holding hearts, in an exchange of emotion and empathy between human and animal.

Kiki Smith’s exhibition Free Fall at the Seoul Museum of Art, the artist’s first solo exhibition in a public museum in Asia, is on view through March 12, 2023. Her solo show From the Creek is on view at the Albuquerque Museum, New Mexico, USA, through February 12, and a series of mosaics for the Grand Central Madison station in New York opened in late 2022.

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