press release

Karen Kilimnik first drew attention in the 1990s with the distinctive "installation" approach she still uses today. Her oeuvre is patiently built out of strangely poetic orchestrations born of a zanily imagination.

A resident of Philadelphia, this American artist gradually gained recognition with the singular vision punctuated by countless references mixing academic art and popular culture, historical and current events, reality and fiction.

While she seems to have halted the big “scatter art” installations that made her famous at the end of the 1990s, she continues to make use of freewheeling scenarios in the form of unexpected collages showing no deference to historical exactitude. Drawing markedly on tales, legends, opera, ballet, fashion magazines and TV series, her installations use the small format paintings known as modelli for the staging of a world of illusion. With a sound mastery of layout of works combining classical rigour and the creation of a setting, the artist offers a reinterpretation of "Old World" culture.

After having found her way into historically charged venues in Basel and Venice in 2005, Karen Kilimnik is presenting here four installations – two of them new – in association with some fifty paintings.

With its mix of artificial snow, candles, garlands of leaves and monochrome paintings of the sky, the installation Good, 1995 seemingly disorganised but in fact skilfully structured, belongs to the “scatter art” method she initiated in New York in the early 1990s.

Antechambers, 2005 is a group of three coloured walls using arrangements of various pieces of ornamentation to create a kind of 18th-century "folly" that disconcerts in the context of a contemporary space. Paintings of antechambers and other reading rooms are standing outside the walls, as if propelled out of the “set”.

The globbed furnitureM, 2006 recreates the absurd and artificial ads of interior design magazines in three dimensions, with all sort of objects.

The new installation The Grotto, 2006 suggests the architecturally constructed gardens of Renaissance Italian villas, with the foliage and the lion and tiger masks on their elaborate bases conjuring up the atmosphere of a paganism. For the artist this scenery recalls both Halloween costumes and a Danish ballet Napoli (by Bournonville).

The various installations are orchestrated by fifty or so pictures of very different kinds – oils, gouaches, watercolours and sketches – that reference the painting of masters like Ruysdael, Stubbs and Raeburn.

The portraits are often of actors, models or dancers embodying historical or literary figures: for instance Paris Hilton as Marie Antoinette, Leonardo di Caprio as Prince Desire and Nureyev as the Snow Prince. Sometimes, however, they take the form of more or less realistic self-portraits spelling out a coded identity for the artist.

The landscapes contain a multiplicity of references to English painting; to French preromanticism – Hubert Robert-style ruins, Horace Vernet-style storms; and to theatre and ballet sets – weirdly fantastic castles, prancing horses, etc.

The world of Karen Kilimnik is full of paradoxes: she draws on inventiveness and appropriation, on the present and the past, on the anonymous and the famous. Deliberately turning her back on a certain kind of avant-garde, she succeeds in inventing a new kind of installation.

Her genius for mise en scène is not easy to pin down, never stopping at the context she has chosen and avoiding all certain interpretation. Subverting the genres she uses, she recreates an "imaginary reality" always propped up by sham. Parodying painting's commonplaces, she only plays at the disappearance or the multiplication of the author. Armed with humour and wit, Karen Kilimnik depicts a world of appearances in quest of an ambiguous, subversive beauty.

The exhibition will be shown in a different form at the Serpentine Gallery, London in February 2007

Curators : Laurence Bossé, Angeline Scherf, Anne Dressen and Julia Garimorth


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Karen Kilimnik
Kuratoren: Laurence Bosse, Angeline Scherf, Anne Dressen, Julia Garimorth

27.10.06 - 07.01.07 Musée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Februar 2007 Serpentine Gallery, London (in abgewandelter Form)