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A DANCE OF CREATION AND DESTRUCTION: KIKI KOGELNIK AT PACE GALLERY

The Dance at Pace honours Kogelnik’s legacy, but also bridges her insights to the ongoing dialogue within our ever-changing technological landscape. writes Joanna Metodieva.

Installation image courtesy of Pace


Pace Gallery presents a retrospective of Austrian-born artist Kiki Kogelnik spanning three decades, inviting viewers on a journey through the dance of human form and existence. Entitled The Dance, the exhibition explores the delicate balance between human fragility and technological advancement, where the echoes of the past mingle with the whispers of the future. Her later work imbues the exhibition with a playful examination of feminism in a biting commentary on the absurdity of unrealistic beauty standards.


Inspired by the mediaeval allegory of the dance macabre, the exhibition title sets the stage for a narrative that transcends mere artistry, delving deep into the human psyche. Much like the skeletal dancers of the late middle ages, her works traverse the spectrum of human experience, from the physical to the cosmic, inviting viewers to contemplate the transient nature of being.


Upon entering the exhibition, you are greeted by a collection of Kogelnik's works from the 1960s, her peak of creativity. Here, among a collection of oil, acrylic, and pencil pieces, the artist's fascination with the human form takes centre stage. Astronaut (1964), a towering colossus of traced bodies and cosmic dreams, beckons viewers into a world where flesh and machine intertwine in a delicate ballet of existence.


Kogelnik's exploration of human fragility unfolds into a distinct air of melancholic as her series of pencil drawings, silhouettes, and X-rays strip away the facade of invincibility, laying bare the skeletal truth beneath. Through her cyborgs and prosthetics, she challenges us to question the very essence of humanity in an age of technological marvels and existential dread.


Amid the array of vivid colour and form, Kogelnik's works echo the spirit of the Space Age, where optimism and anxiety intertwine like strands of DNA. She navigates the uncharted waters of human progress of the era, including the Apollo 11 moon landing, offering glimpses of a future where flesh and circuitry merge in a dance of creation and destruction.



Installation images courtesy of Pace


The Dance at Pace is Kogelnik's first solo show in the UK, following her inclusion in the group exhibition World Goes Pop at Tate Modern in 2015. This milestone provides an intimate look into her distinctive voice within the contemporary art scene. While her contemporaries, like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, embraced the commercial and mechanical aspects of Pop Art, Kogelnik infused her work with a haunting exploration of human vulnerability and technological encroachment. Her use of silhouettes and X-Ray drawings delving into existential questions set her apart, adding a layer of introspection that elevates her work beyond the superficiality often associated with Pop Art.


Descending further into the artist's psyche, the lower ground level reveals a spectrum of works from the 1970s and 80s. Here, Kogelnik's evolution becomes evident through her exploration of materials such as vinyl, ceramic, and wood, resulting in dynamic installations and sculptures that differ from her earlier work, delving into themes of the human body, gender, and feminism. This showcases Kogelnik's versatility and broadens the viewer's understanding of her artistic range.


Kogelnik's artistic journey reveals a fascinating evolution in emotional tone and thematic focus between her earlier works from the 1960s and her later pieces from the 1970s and 80s. In the 1960s, her art exuded a sense of melancholy, reflective of the uncertainties and existential concerns of the era. However, as the 1970s unfolded, Kogelnik's style underwent a transformation, embracing a more humorous and satirical approach to her subject matter, injecting a sense of playfulness and irreverence into her work.





Installation images courtesy of Pace


An intriguing display juxtaposes the pieces Seventh Ave. People (1986), Untitled (Hanging) (1970), and Untitled (Robots) (1967), resulting in a conceptual narrative representing the human body in a flat, lifeless way, suggesting it as merely a surface, devoid of life or sexuality. This display demonstrates significant evolution in style, presenting three works from different periods that cohesively create a powerful dialogue between past and present.


Another highlight is the large-scale painting On the Beach (1973). Along with her ceramic sculptures from the 70s, these pieces invite viewers to shift their focus towards Kogelnik’s exploration of feminist ideals through a commercial lens. Theychallenge traditional notions of beauty and femininity, critiquing society's obsession with unrealistic beauty standards. Through exaggerated features, varied skin colours, and reptile-like faces posed as models from beauty advertisements, Kogelnik emphasises the pressure on women to conform to narrow ideals of attractiveness.


The Dance offers a comprehensive and thought-provoking journey through Kogelnik's artistic evolution, highlighting her distinctive approach to exploring human fragility, technological advancement, and societal norms. This exhibition plays a vital role not only in cementing Kogelnik’s place within the contemporary art scene but also in inviting viewers to reflect on the enduring relevance of her themes in today's world. As discussions around gender dynamics and the impact of AI and VR technologies gain momentum, Kogelnik's work resonates deeply. Contemporary artists such as Mario Klingemann and Refik Anadol have similarly delved into exploring the challenges and possibilities of our digital age, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the position of human beings in this context. Much like Kogelnik’s pieces, Klingemann’s work uses distorted images of human bodies to navigate the intersection between our world and technology. The Dance honours Kogelnik’s legacy but also bridges her insights to the ongoing dialogue within our ever-changing technological landscape.


 

Joanna Metodieva is a London-based contemporary art writer, exploring the intersection of creativity, culture, and society.

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