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Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago To Present Karen Kilimnik
Karen Kilimnik, Prince Charming, 1998. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.

CHICAGO.-From celebrity portrayals to Old Masters-style art history, Karen Kilimnik's work combines romantic tradition, childhood nostalgia, pop culture, and feminine psychology. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, provides the final opportunity to view Kilimnik’s first solo U.S. survey exhibition filled with imagery that has been culled from the historic and recent past and channeled into an unsettling present. The exhibition, on view February 23 to June 8, 2008, spans fifteen years of painting, drawing, sculpture, photographs, video, and installation.

Kilimnik is recognized for paintings that combine art historical tradition, modish topicality, and an awkward intimacy and fragility. The works also draw on literary traditions of gothic mystery and fairy tales, presenting narratives that unfold over the course of a series of related paintings. Small oil paintings of pop culture figures such as Paris Hilton, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Snow White are swirled into classical settings and displayed salon-style in a parlor room constructed in the gallery complete with damask wallpaper and a settee. Kilimnik’s use of copying and ‘mastering’ works by past artists is evident in her Master Hare (1997) painting series after the work by Sir Joshua Reynolds of the same name and subject.

Alternatively, in the Me as self-portrait photograph and painting series, Kilimnik is disguised, with black marker sketches, as famous dancers, models, and movie stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Gelsey Kirkland. The poetics and frustrations of projecting one’s self through media culture are expressed in drawings, which borrow from a wide range of sources, to read as diary-like disclosures. Collectively, these works show how Kilimnik has expended an essentially collage-based practice into a full-scale and theatrical form of production. A recent video project, The bluebird in the folly (2006), is screened in a small gazebo-like structure.

Kilimnik emerged in the late 1980s as part of the “scatter art” scene, presenting patently punk and deconstructed installation art. Scatter art was a proving ground where early 1980s Appropriation Art was given new life by infusions from early 1970s Process Art. Various bits of pop cultural debris are strewn about a gallery space to create a sensibility somewhere between the Postminimalism of Robert Morris and Barry Le Va and the backstage of a fashion preview. The exhibition highlights several examples of this type of art including Kilimnik’s The Hellfire Club episode of the Avengers (1989), a mixed-media installation that references an episode of the 1960s British spy television show. Black sheets of paper, ornate mirrors, and a smashed chandelier are arranged in the corner of a bare gallery along with photocopied images of Diana Rigg as Emma Peel and Georgian-style mansions. This installation is complete with a soundtrack of Pet Shop Boys and Madonna songs, as well as The Avengers theme song.

Additional scatter installations include Drugs (1991), featuring bright yellow pills and white powder spilled on the floor; and Switzerland, the Pink Panther & Peter Sellers & Boris & Natasha & Gelsey Kirkland in Siberia (1991), a winter scene that portrays two Pink Panther dolls situated among fake snow and ice, ballet slippers, and a fondue pot.

An artist of international stature, Kilimnik was born in 1957 and is a native of Philadelphia. In 1992, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, presented her first museum show. Since then, she has received solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Ireland; Kunsthalle, Zurich; and the White Cube, London. Recent exhibitions include a show organized by L’Arc in Paris and a show of ballet-inspired installations in Venice and Basel. In 2005, she created two major site-specific installations in Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice, and Kirschgarten Basel Historisches Museum, Vasel. Four drawings are in the MCA Collection.

The exhibition was organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, and curated by Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner. The MCA presentation is coordinated by Curator Dominic Molon.

Exhibition Catalogue - A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition and features an essay by curator Ingrid Schaffner. A series of brief essays on related themes are also included: Affect by MCA Curator Dominic Molon; Ballet by dance historian Joel Lobenthal; and Titles by art historian Scott Rothkopf.

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