I clearly remember being horrified by what I perceived as the saccharine sweetness of Karen Kilimnik’s early portraits when I first saw them at a time when the full force of postmodernism had not yet made itself felt. Now, nearly 30 years on, the work looks very different. It has become clear that her delight in pop culture has always been shaped by her idiosyncratic and imaginative view of the world: in other words it is nothing to do with appropriation.
This exhibition gives a pretty comprehensive picture of what she has achieved. It begins with Paris is Burning (1991)/Is Paris Burning (1994) which was included in her first museum show in Philadelphia in 1992. The raffish clothing scattered on the floor gives no clue as to the political meaning of the whole. It refers to two films, one a controversial but award winning documentary about the voguing scene in New York, and the other a Hollywood movie about Hitler’s plans to destroy the city of Paris just before it was liberated. Quite an esoteric mix. You may notice that the red dress is embroidered with a swastika.
The prettiness of everything charms but the subject matter sounds a warning note. There is no difference between the delightful way she paints a black horse ‘leaping for joy’ and an air battle between fighter planes in the second world war. A larger work which plots the partitioning of Poland and the Fall of France is especially gorgeous in terms of its colour. In all of them however there is an underlying and rather dreamy sense of menace. It got under my skin. Go and see it and find out if the same happens to you.
Karen Kilimnik is at Spruth Magers in Grafton Street until 26 May.
I am going to New York tomorrow for a couple of weeks so I should have some interesting things to post on my return.