The Eva Presenhuber Gallery is proud to present new works created by Karen Kilimnik in 2004, as well as a spatial arrangement designed exclusively for the gallery. Through the convergence of various media, styles, and genres drawn from art history, the artist creates her own cosmos where dreams, beauty, and nostalgia exist vis-à-vis nasty, petty bits of reality and dark powers. And yet, this fascinating and ambivalent universe is never quite attainable through the subtle interplay of past and present, fulfillment and desire, reality and dream. Spectators are made to embark on a journey through the ages that is simultaneously witty, seductive and unsettling.
Kilimnik became known for her chalk and color-crayon drawings, through which she explores the world of contemporary stars, such as Kate Moss or Leonardo di Caprio, as well as the stylized iconography of times past. She consciously chooses androgynous figures, creatures not yet defined by life, which — only at second sight — seem too serene or slightly distant, and thus betray under their lovely surface an empty, lonely or even dark side. The artist integrates her unusually sketchy drawings of a familiar media world with handwritten texts, brief stories, and commentaries, which she invents or copies from tabloids. In this fashion, the values dictated by the world of glamour become from time to time objects of consensus, ironic comments, and critical analysis. The new drawings presented in this exhibit show an aristocratic couple from the eighteenth century. The characters stare past each other, lost in emptiness, in a magnificent and barely-sketched salon and on their way home in a coach. Thus Kilimnik gives a glimpse into a private moment behind the high-society role played in this theatrical epoch. Contemptuously titled the fop in the dining room (2004) and the fop on the way home (2004), these paintings are doubly challenged. With the wink of an eye, Kilimnik chooses a man’s vantage point and in her title mentions only the man in the picture.
While historical figures appear only occasionally in Kilimnik’s drawings, her small-size paintings often draw inspiration from the English pictorial tradition of the eighteenth century and the emphasis on emotions typical of that epoch. At first sight, interiors, portraits, landscapes and animals appear technically simpler; on the other hand they are livelier and have more layers of meanings than their models, for the aristocratic world of luxury and beauty harbors dangers, as does its modern reflection. Idylls are menaced by natural cataclysms, tempests, or conflagrations. Cows are standing in the fog, and behind the twisted trees – Italy, Tuscany (2004) the sky turns threateningly dark. In paintings like the castle keep, Belgium (2004) the scenery is reminiscent of Gothic novels. Yet, through the nostalgic memory of a past world in Old England, never to return, or of a fairytale world with ballerinas and princesses, the paintings sated with color display a melancholic beauty, which the highly personal style of execution and inscrutable ambivalence render immune to kitsch. With her paintings of storms (the tempest, the tempest room, the tempest near the garden wall and the tempest in the fifteenth century), Kilimnik tackles for the first time a work of the Italian Renaissance. She chooses a portion of the painting la tempesta [the storm] of Giorgione (ca. 1505), which shows two unknown figures in a landscape shortly before the outbreak of a storm, and focuses on an area with trees and on the stark color- and chiaroscuro contrasts of stormy weather. Thus Giorgione’s pioneer attempt to focus on nature becomes radical. Kilimnik counters painting inspired by history with idyllic homes in Italy or France, such as my très jolie house in France (2004), a promise of a brief escape to a world of sanity in our day; and to realize these brief idylls, the artist is quick to move a house from Stratford to France.
In the spatial arrangement created by the artist specifically for the gallery, visitors are swept into an interior of imperial style. Among the modern, cement structures of the gallery, wooden doors lead to intimate salon interiors decorated with chandeliers, pastel walls, mirrors, and a fireplace. Through all this, the characteristic world of images of Karen Kilimnik can also be spatially experienced.