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KIKI KOGELNIK. Now Is the Time

Category: Exhibition 3. February 2023

Arranged chronologically – though not strictly – the exhibition at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien demonstrates the incredibly multifaceted creativity of Kogelnik’s legacy, from the 1960s to the 1990s. Kogelnik's art ranges from painting, drawings, objects and ceramics and sculptures to installations as well as performances and photography.

Already in the entrance hall there are three different self-portraits of the artist, but also three glass heads made in Murano, probably the works that visitors are most familiar with and usually associate with Kiki Kogelnik. The heads, made in editions of five were created late in her career, after the cancer diagnosis she received in 1993. They were produced in collaboration with Murano glass master Adriano Berengo and were quite successful in the art market.

Born 1935 in Graz, Kiki Kogelnik studied at both Viennese art academies, and was quick to make her name known, also by marketing strategies like memorable titles for her works or stamps like “Bussi Kiki” (Kisses Kiki) she signed her postcards with.

After Vienna, where she exhibited her paintings at the St. Stephan Gallery together with the Austrian avant-garde like Rainer or Prachensky, she went to Paris and then moved to New York in 1962, a decisive step for the 27-year-old artist; there she became familiar with the Pop Art scene and artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg.

New York would have a decisive influence on her artistic style. The popular culture of consumer society, the colorful world of merchandise, advertising, and comics, was taken up and depicted by a new generation of artists and inspired Kogelnik to her very own absorption of Pop Art as well as the American spirit of optimism, an outlook that was very different from post-war Europe at the time. However, Kogelnik did not see herself as a Pop Art artist, her motto was: "Art comes from artificial”.

She was inspired by space travel, new science, and also feminist themes, deconstructing female clichés in an ironic way. The human body or self-expression were often central subjects. Kogelnik populated her paintings with life-size bodies, which she transferred to the canvas as outlines of herself and friends. For her vinyl "Hangings" she took the silhouettes of many protagonists of the art scene at the time, like Claes Oldenburg. These plastic casts, like clothes would in fashion stores, are hung on clothes rails in the exhibition, reminding of colored scraps of skin on hangers and clothes pins, transforming her painted figures into three-dimensional flat sculptures.

In the 1970s, she explored images of women, fashion photography and magazines, developing her own visual vocabulary and transgressing the boundaries of Pop Art with her feminist messages. In the exhibition at the Kunstforum there are also ceramics, photographs of performances, masks and animal motifs, and at the end the inevitable, although in a humorous vein: the confrontation with mortality. Despite her early death – Kogelnik passed away in 1997 – the artist remains with her multifacetted oeuvre and her assertiveness a role model for other generations of female artists.

There had already been exhibitions dedicated to Kogelnik in the last decade and in 2021 she was represented in the exhibition The Milk of Dreams at the Venice Biennale. Until June, the Kunstforum shows its most extensive retrospective to date, which will then travel to Zurich and Denmark. The exhibition, comprising about 180 works, was prepared by curator Lisa Ortner-Kreil in close cooperation with the Kogelnik Foundation, (managed by the artist Mono Schwarz – Kogelnik, Kiki Kogelnik’s son), the Brandts Art Museum in Odense and the Kunsthaus Zürich and supplemented by loans from private collections and museums such as the Mumok, the Louisiana Museum in Denmark and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. (written by Cem Angeli)

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