Pioneering artist Kiki Kogelnik's first solo presentation in London opens at Pace
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Pioneering artist Kiki Kogelnik's first solo presentation in London opens at Pace
Kiki Kogelnik, Seventh Ave. People, 1986. Sheet vinyl, chromed steel hangers and chromed steel garment rack, 70-7/8" × 28-3/8" × 72-13/16" (180 cm × 72.1 cm × 184.9 cm) © Kiki Kogelnik Foundation. All rights reserved.

LONDON.- Pace is presenting Kiki Kogelnik: The Dance, the first solo presentation of the pioneering artist’s work in London, running from May 24 to August 3.

This exhibition, whose title draws inspiration from the allegorical Danse Macabre, or the Dance with Death, includes works across various mediums that are emblematic of Kogelnik’s profound exploration of the future possibilities—and perils—of outer space, and her relationship to the altered and abstracted twentieth-century body. Incorporating work spanning three decades of production, The Dance showcases Kogelnik’s unique, futuristic visual language as a means in which to communicate the universal fragility of terrestrial life.

Kogelnik's singular visual language of weightless bodies, geometric repetition, and vibrant, neon colours defies categorisation. Born in Austria in 1935, she relocated to New York in the early 196Os, where she was introduced to artists including Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Tom Wesselmann. Charged by the city's artistic vitality-set against the pervasive background of the Cold War and Space Race-Kogelnik's practice surged into a prolific phase of creative development. Alongside her distinctive 'Kiki' style of painting, her assemblages proposed mechanical augmentation of the body as a means of survival, using novel materials such as sheet vinyl, plastics, and fibreglass. A shift in Kogelnik's work throughout the course of the 197Os and 8Os saw her treatment of the female body become more pronounced, concurrent with her growing dissatisfaction of the artistic scene's 'boys club'. With dynamic fluidity across paintings, works on paper, and ceramics, her explicit commentaries on the representations of women in modern society are imbued with an irony, critique, and pessimism that diverge ideologically from the canonical Pop art of her counterparts.

Pace's upcoming exhibition in London includes a suite of chromatic paintings that speak to Kogelnik's fascination with space travel and her desire to be free. Bomb for Alfonso (1962), last seen at the 59th Biennale di Venezia, Brutal in Outer Space (c. 1962-63), and Untitled (Skull) (1960-63), encapsulate Kogelnik's mixed sentiments to the burgeoning technologies of the 1960s. In these paintings, silhouetted figures and disembodied limbs hover amongst falling bombs, pink skulls, and flattened silver spheres. Any sense of morbidity suggested by their composition is offset by their gleefully psychedelic palette of teals, tangerines, crimsons, and mauves.

From 1964, Kogelnik began incorporating objects onto the surface of her canvases as three-dimensional augmentation to the bodies they depicted. Artificial Man and Artificial Woman (both 1965), two paintings not seen since the artist's solo exhibition in 1965 at the Austrian Institute, New York, have recently been reassembled and will also be on view. A long, twisting hose hangs from the chest of the orange male form, who, additionally, sports four arms and a disconnected limb suggestive of a 'spare part'. In lieu of an internal organ, a clear, plastic love heart is affixed to the green wire that is encased in the piping. A similar length of tube extends from the torso of the entirely deconstructed female figure, as she floats amidst her three arms and four legs.

To create these life-size forms that populate her paintings, Kogelnik traced around bodies-sometimes her own, and sometimes those of her acquaintances-in a process akin to photography that she described as 'taking'. Enhancing their mechanistic quality, the tape Kogelnik used to secure her cutouts remains delineated, suggesting that the figures and their extra limbs resemble both garments for paper dolls and integral components of a larger machine.

In a large-scale sculpture included in the exhibition, titled Seventh Ave. People (1986), flat, outlined bodies produced on sheet vinyl drape on hangers that suspend from a clothing rail, perhaps suggesting that identity is something that can be slipped on or off at will. Kogelnik's first studio in New York was not far from the Garment District on 7th Avenue, whose rush of clothing racks, tailors, and designers was a dynamic source of inspiration for the artist. Uncoupled from distinctions of sex, gender, or race, these vibrantly coloured cutouts offer the joy of Kogelnik's world and sixties-era utopianism. Yet, the threat of death in this-and Kogelnik's other hanging works-cannot be escaped. Like flayed skins, these depleted bodies portend a post-atomic world that is subject at any moment to weapons of mass destruction. By fusing the imagery of memento mori with symbolically optimistic materials, like vinyl, Kogelnik's works manifest life and death on the edge of destruction.

For Kogelnik, the body that would survive the future was something that could be engineered, cloned, and automated. Like her cutouts, she produced figurative imprints using anatomically accurate stamps of the body, bone structure, circulatory system, and inner organs. A body of twelve drawings included in The Dance that feature these stamps portray their eponymous Robots in narrative sequence: their creation; their ascension into space and journey to other planets; the nirvana of celestial travel and their subsequent transformation; and finally, their fall and destruction. Circles permeate these works, from the glowing spheres around which body parts orbit, to smaller, clustered beads redolent of medical blister packs.

In the early 1970s, Kogelnik departed from depictions of androgynous bodies, instead sourcing her models from advertisements or fashion editorials, and focusing on the archetypes of femininity circulated in mass media. The painting On the Beach (1973), included in the exhibition, imitates the wide format of a billboard: like shop mannequins, the women in this painting model swimwear and summer dresses while holding stiff, unnatural poses. Like the ceramics also on view, their faces are mask-like. Blank, cutout eyes, boldly outlined lips, and smooth, flat surfaces assert the artificiality of the female ideal. Just as Kogelnik envisioned Space utopias, she likewise revealed the culturally constructed expectations of women's bodies as fantasy, otherwise expressed by her often-repeated maxim, "art comes from artificial, because it is not nature."

Concurrent with The Dance, Kogelnik is the subject of a major retrospective at Kunsthaus Zurich, on through July 14, 2024. In Paris, three ceramic sculptures by the artist are included in the exhibition Le monde comme ii va (The World as It Goes), at The Pinault Collection, Bourse de commerce, on through September 2, 2024.

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