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Exhibition of new still life photographs by Karen Kilimnik opens at Spruth Magers Berlin
Karen Kilimnik, Fox with winter cache of food in the winter cave fox den, 2013. C-print, 10 1/2 x 14 in. ©Karen Kilimnik. Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London.

BERLIN.- Over the past two decades, Karen Kilimnik has become known for her playful treatment of celebrities and nostalgia, combining stories, costumes and magic to create highly theatrical yet intimate exhibitions. Using a wide range of media, including installation, drawing and photography, and not least her distinctive paintings, she orchestrates a range of references, from scraps of lowbrow fame to the trappings of European aristocracy. In her exhibition in Berlin, adapted and expanded from her show organized by Le Consortium, Dijon, for the vineyard L’Académie Conti in Burgundy, Kilimnik exhibits a body of work that juxtaposes images of wealth and war, fairytales and femininity.

The core of the exhibition is a group of new still life photographs, many set in a leafy, bucolic landscape. The mood of the show is established in A summers day picnic, where a small picnic of tea and biscuits is laid out on a small patchwork towel, as ornamental as it is nourishing. Here we find some of the key motifs in this body of work: an artificial bird, a large silver vase filled with flowers, cheap, everyday food and cosmetic jewelry all occupy the same ritualistic space. The picnic itself is at once casual and elaborate, its ersatz pageantry suggesting that a group of children were acting out a fairytale of their own devising. The mix of childishness and magic continues into The golden coins in the forest, where two blue tits appear to be protecting a Chanel charm bracelet. In Fox with winter cache of food in the winter cave fox den, a jewel-bedecked fox astride a gold ring looks over his snowy smorgasbord of schnitzel, cake and a cherry-topped sundae. Kilimnik deploys little throwaway toys to create tableaux that invoke stories, yet the viewer is in the position of trying to come up with tales that might match the pictures. The mood alters in Runway in field french countryside 1943, french resistance, (all 2013), where a WWII - era Lancaster bomber completes a circle formed by six little candles. This mysterious ritual, at once childish and sinister, triggers a new range of ideas about the nature of the toys and their origin, or perhaps a darker history of the land upon which the rituals are enacted.

The toy planes that Kilimnik uses in the photographs will also be exhibited. The model Spitfires and Lancaster bombers, encrusted in jewels and placed on plinths, become decorative objects, useless even as toys or models. The rituals and tableaux depicted in the photographs might be taking place in the grounds of an aristocratic chateau or in the forests of Burgundy, alongside some of the most famous and prestigious vineyards in the world. Kilimnik collects objects and images of fantasy, privilege and power, and transforms them with deft acts of decoration, a gesture that is both playful and iconoclastic. Images of wealth, artificiality and magic all occupy the same theatrical space, emphasizing how structures of authority can be undermined – or bolstered – by the wide-eyed innocence of a fairytale.

Karen Kilimnik (born 1955, Philadelphia, USA) studied at the Temple University in her hometown where she lives and works today. Major solo exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2012), the Belvedere, Vienna (2010), the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2006), the Serpentine Gallery, London, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami and Le Consortium, Dijon (all 2007), the Fondazione Belvilacqua La Masa, Venice (2005) and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2002). Major group exhibitions include the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2008), the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the MoMA PS1, New York (both 2006), the MoMA, New York (2005, 2001, 1999), the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1997, 1992), and the Secession, Vienna (1994). In 2011 Kilimnik created a stage setting for the ballet Psyche at the Opéra National de Paris.

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