Karen Kilimnik creates winter wonderland with ‘Christmas Service for the Forest Pets’

Borrowing its title from a signature painting by Karen Kilimnik, Christmas Service for the Forest Pets surveys the artist’s thirty-year career through a festive seasonal lens. Paintings, photographs, and sculptures made between 1999 and 2020 will be presented in a “winter wonderland”—a total environment conceived and installed by the artist herself.

The exhibition’s mise-en-scènewill evoke the merry trappings and artifice of the holiday season, heightening the theatrical narrative fantasies inherent in Kilimnik’s work. Christmas Service for the Forest Pets sutures together her concurrent preoccupations with Old World pageantry and mass culture mythology, with her phantasmorphic biography and ongoing search for a latter-day Romantic sublime.

Christmas Service for the Forest Pets is curated by Alison M. Gingeras. Organized in collaboration with 303 Gallery, the exhibition will be on view at South Etna Montauk through January 10, 2021.

The faux-Tudor style of the cottage that houses South Etna Montauk recalls the imaginary European scenes that Karen Kilimnik has visualized over the years. Inspired by this aesthetic kismet, she has created a site-specific installation project for the building’s exterior windows. Peering through frosted glass panes illuminated by holiday lights, visitors will discover Kilimnik’s recent bejeweled sculpture of the Louvre museum as well as the exhibition’s titular work—a circular painting from 2008 of baby woodland creatures huddled in the snow around a fir tree and a shining cross.

Once inside the gallery’s cottage, visitors will encounter a wintry tableau teeming with the signature themes of Kilimnik’s practice. Known for her immersive installations, she is here conjuring the interiors of a European manor as envisioned by the designers of sets for made-for-TV movies. Kilimnik’s crystal chandelier sculpture will glimmer above piles of fake snow, reflecting a glow upon sumptuously colored walls and a fireplace mantle, around which the artist’s winter-themed paintings and photographs are arranged. With this installation, Kilimnik aims to transport viewers from present-day Montauk to remote locales in her artistic time machine, toggling between fantasias that range from a military campaign tent in Tsarist Russia, to the Swedish Royal Forests; from breakfast in the Himalayas, to the gothic streetscape of prewar Nuremberg. Adorable animals populate her fairytale world, their sentimental presence perfectly coexisting with the mien of such other illustrious subjects as minor German nobles, the Snow Prince (i.e., ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev), and the Pink Panther out for a morning walk in Gstaad.

Curator Alison M. Gingeras explains that “Christmas Service for the Forest Pets will be something akin to a walk-in snow globe. Once under the glass dome, it doesn’t matter that what’s inside is fake. We are still beguiled by the same genuine sense of magic and reverie that we get from shaking the globe.”

About the artist

Born in 1955 in Philadelphia, Karen Kilimnik rose to prominence in the early 1990s with quirky oil paintings and “scatter” installations seeped in fantasia that collapsed boundaries between fiction and history. She single-handedly ushered in a new generation of conceptual artists who not only grappled with the symbiosis of high and low culture, but also opened new formal and affective avenues for the mediums of painting and sculpture.

The New York Times critic Holland Carter once described the essence of her work as “deceptively sophisticated art about glamour, the junk food of the soul, and has been studying it since her first solo at 303 Gallery [in 1991].”

Kilimnik’s inimitable artistic contributions have been recently explored in major solo exhibitions at The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (2018–19), The Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich (2012), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2008). 

About the gallery

In July 2020, Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann opened a new exhibition space in the heart of Montauk Village where they have lived for over a decade. South Etna Montauk resides in a faux-Tudor cottage emblazoned with a sign created by neighbor Julian Schnabel. Artists are invited to show their work in this local site that engages with the community on the East End of Long Island.

South Etna Montauk is open to the public Friday through Sunday from 11am to 6pm and by appointment. Social distancing will be observed in accordance with guidelines recommended to ensure the health and safety of staff and visitors.

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