Magazine article Artforum International

Karen Kilimnik: 303 Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Karen Kilimnik: 303 Gallery

Article excerpt

Karen Kilimnik

303 GALLERY

Damien Hirst, a man, claims to make art for "people who haven't been born yet." Karen Kilimnik hasn't bothered to defend herself, probably because she makes art for the true public. Born-again types. The pleasure we derive from her art is that we don't have to be productive versions of ourselves, but romantics, bovarystes enragees, pleasure seekers, those whom Joan Didion accused in her essay on the women's movement of having an "astral discontent with actual lives." Adults who want "eternal love, romance, fun," but know better than to look in real life. They--I?--love Kilimnik, and were largely happy with her new show at 303 Gallery, particularly the four pastel-lush oil paintings that (literally) glittered under the Swarovski chandelier in the back room. Anonymous knights paused in wooded clearings on hazy summer days and goddesses returned to their stone niches to nap in dainty frames, with floral applique, painted right on the canvas. A heavy, forest-green curtain cordoned off the room. Like mise en abyme, this show-within-a-show advanced her plot. It was theatrical, dusky, private, pretty. We slipped behind the curtain, like actors on the stage of her escapist drama, like adults who actually know how to have fun (and are actors in their own lives?). It was an experience, which meant it was not for sale, so worth buying.

Why did it feel like the rest of the show was not part of Kilimnik's world? Her 2012 retrospective at the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut, has made me prefer her home shows: those where she displays actual wallpaper, portraits, fountains. The public's perverse Florine Stettheimer! There was something even more opulent, almost louche, as the term scatter art was right to suggest, in her 1989 piece The Hellfire Club Episode of the Avengers. (The chandelier was on the floor.) Whereas in 303's glittering cave I was struck by the studied carelessness of her brushwork, her elegant sprezzatura, out under the track lights of real life, I was soon reminded that I was dealing with an artist whose calculatedly amateurish brushstrokes can read as exactly that: amateurish. But the show's twenty-nine works--seventeen of them "collages on paper," suffering bantam-like from the somewhat matte dreariness of photographic reproduction--still play into Kilimnik's strength as a conceptual artist. …

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