September 28, 2017

Interview: Pilar Zevallos and the Kiki Kogelnik Foundation

Interview: Pilar Zevallos and the Kiki Kogelnik Foundation


Tomorrow, September 28, Kunsthall Stavanger and the Kiki Kogelnik Foundation will be in New York to celebrate the launch of the publication Kiki Kogelnik: Inner Life at Printed Matter. In preparation for the event, Managing Director of the Kiki Kogelnik Foundation Pilar Zevallos answers a few questions about Kogelnik's life, creative practice, and the role of the foundation in maintaining her artistic legacy. 

Kiki Kogelnik is often described as one of Austria’s most important female artists of the 20th century. What qualities make her artwork so enduring and consistently relevant?

One of the main reasons Kogelnik’s work continues to be relevant is that it brings up issues that are still very pertinent to our lives today, such as the ever-evolving relationship between the body and technology. Another reason her work generates interest today is that she used unconventional materials across various media, which is a practice that many artists find engaging and inspiring. 
She broke from materials that were embedded within the painterly tradition, and used commercially available products outside of their intended application. Kogelnik experimented with fluorescent pigments, PVC vinyl, polyurethane foam, acrylic glass and ready-made household objects. Yet she also explored film, installation, and even performed a handful of happenings in the 1960s. Her work touches on issues as diverse as gender and body politics, technology, and societal changes. 

When Kogelnik moved from Austria to the US in 1960, both the style and content of her artwork changed dramatically. To what do you attribute this shift?

When Kogelnik settled in New York at the beginning of the 60s, the environment in which she found herself, both socially and physically, had a monumental impact on her work. During that time the city was in a transitional state, and it was then also relatively inexpensive to live and work, so a number of artists were living there. Figures central to the New York art scene, such as Shusaku Arakawa, Tom Wesselman, Hannah Wilke, Roy Lichtenstein, Marta Minujin, and Claes Oldenburg helped shape her new aesthetics. Kogelnik came from the austerity of war-torn Austria, to the lights of New York with its endless billboard advertisements, skyline, and squalor— this general shift of locale also had a significant influence on her practice moving forward. 

The exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger focuses mainly on Kogelnik’s works from the 1960s and 70s, a particularly prolific period of her career.  Why was this such a creatively rich time in her practice?

The 60s and 70s were very much a time of change in general, and Kogelnik digested the historical moment idiosyncratically and cultivated a visually unique interpretation through her works. Events that were happening during this time, like the space war, the Vietnam War, the feminist movement, and a series of political scandals, impacted her practice. In the 1960s, she used motifs that referenced space and technology: spaceships, rockets, robots, astronauts, planets and the moon, with bodies floating in space. She also made works on paper, paintings, prints, and vinyl sculptures that examine the growing sociopolitical tensions of the time—and which I might add continue to be germane in our own insecure and troublesome political climate.  

Kogelnik’s work is often lumped in with Pop Art, but upon closer inspection differs significantly from the driving forces behind that movement. In what ways do you consider her work to be unique from that of other artists working at that time, and was the delineation between her artistic concerns from those of Pop Art intentional on her part?

I would say Kiki Kogelnik is a Pop Art crossover. While some of her friends where associated with the Pop Art movement, she didn’t really have an inclination toward commercial imagery, though she had a keen interest in the mechanism of Pop Art. In contrast, Kogelnik’s interest leaned toward space exploration, poetic interpretations of futuristic and technological elements, including the body as a form, and a general interest in what might be called our situated-ness. 

Though her works from the 1960s and 70s are perhaps the most recognized, I understand that she continued to make artwork throughout the 1980s and 90s until her death in 1997. Can you tell us a little more about these later works? Did her interests and artistic practice continue on the same trajectory?

The media in the later works diversifies. In the mid 70s she began to work with ceramics, which continued until her death. She incorporated other new techniques into her work as well, such as marbling, and she began to use pastel colors in the 80s. The works from this decade are reminiscent of the Memphis Art movement, and present asymmetrical and colorful shapes and patterns. Additionally, Kogelnik took an interest in glass in the early 90s, making a series of thematically-driven heads. 

When was the Foundation formed and what is the organization’s role in Kiki Kogelnik’s artistic legacy?

The foundation was founded in 1997, on the request of Kiki Kogelnik, who was battling ovarian cancer during the last few years of her life. The foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Kiki Kogelnik’s artistic legacy by promoting her ongoing contextualization and enhancing the public’s awareness of the artist’s oeuvre. This includes helping with art historical research, curatorial endeavors, publishing books, and building our archive for scholarship and dialogue with future generations of artists and scholars.  

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