b. January 22, 1935, Bleiburg, Austria
d. February 1, 1997, Vienna, Austria
Kiki Kogelnik transcended the movements of European abstract modernism and American Pop art to create a unique, forward-looking oeuvre that addressed new technologies and feminism. Incorporating a variety of often synthetic materials, irony and humor, her paintings and sculptural work typically took their point of departure in the human form, presenting it as variously ebullient, stylized, interchangeable, fragmentary or skeletal.
Kogelnik was born in Bleiburg, Austria in 1935 and lived and worked between Vienna and New York. Recent solo museum shows include Kiki Kogelnik – Inner Life at Kunsthalle Stavanger, Norway (2017); Kiki Kogelnik: Fly Me to the Moon at Modern Art Oxford, UK (2017) and I Have Seen the Future at Humburger Kunstverein, Hamburg (2012). She was the subject of major retrospectives at Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, Austria in 1998 and at Kunsthalle Krems, Austria in 2013.
All images © The Foundation of Kiki Kogelnik.
Like other mid-century Pop artists, Kiki Kogelnik became a brand. And while the Austrian-born artist should primarily be remembered for her innovative “Hangings” series and her bold feminist motifs, history hasn’t been kind to her. In the United States, Kogelnik’s legacy unfairly rests more on her fashionable image and vibrant personality than on her work itself.
I’ve chosen to focus primarily on works Kogelnik produced in the 1960s and 1970s. I find her preoccupation with technology, new materials, and body politics during that period way ahead of its time. I became really fascinated with her cyborgian works, such as Plug-in Hand (ca. 1967) and Human Spare Part (ca. 1968), both polyurethane hand sculptures with technologies embedded—a telephone handle and an electrical plug—as well as the vinyl Hangings, which allude to a future where bodies can be taken on and off.
Kiki Kogelnik, who passed away almost exactly twenty years ago, on February 1st 1997, staged her artificial appearance as part of a complex artistic overall strategy that focussed on the inseparable connection of life and art. Quite naturally, the multifaceted, versatile artist attached the same importance to the performative “self imaging“ and “self fashioning“ as to her artistic work, which explicitly cannot be reduced to disciplines and categories. “Kiki is an original. Her style is part bohemian, part film star, part intellectual” Robert Fulford stated in the “Toronto Daily Star“ in 1964.
From its inception in the early 1960s, Pop Art was a boys’ club. Huge names like Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann
perpetuated the myth of the (male) artist-as-genius. The movement emerged amid the post-World War II explosions of capitalist consumerism and mass media, as artists explored new modes of mechanical production, often by taking commonplace consumer goods and pop-cultural icons as their subject matter. Associated with an unemotional, distanced attitude toward artmaking, Pop Art’s codified characteristics are, in turn, stereotypically male.
After a stint in California, Kogelnik—already a relatively accomplished abstract painter by her mid-20s—relocated to New York in 1961. It was a life-changing move. Not long after settling in her adopted city, Kogelnik met and befriended Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg, whose collective influence on her was profound. While Kogelnik didn’t become a Pop Art painter herself, she took inspiration from many of the genre’s defining elements: figurative compositions, bold colors, and subjects that reflect contemporary culture.
Kiki Kogelnik in 1966, Kogelnik said, "I'm not involved with Coca-Cola...I'm involved in the technical beauty of rockets," effectively distancing herself from Pop art. She was fascinated by the possibilities of the space age, with its new technologies and innovations in materials.
“FLY ME TO THE MOON,” Britain’s first Kiki Kogelnik retrospective, complemented Tate Modern’s revisionist and staccato survey “The World Goes Pop.” Coinciding with Modern Art Oxford’s exhibition, Tate Modern showcased the work of female Pop artists who had been rediscovered during the past decade, including Kogelnik herself.
Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenberg, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. The giants of post-war American art are being reviewed once again; their replacement of high art with kitsch, brushstroke with Ben-Day dot and abstract expressionism with advertising is eerily prophetic of the current state of affairs. During its first lifetime, pop was maligned for glorifying consumerism; it has now been revised to acknowledge the biting cynicism that bristled beneath the smiles of Hollywood goddesses and the shiny veneer of muscle cars.
Regardless, the legacy of omission has continued unabated, as the largely unknown name Kiki Kogelnik (1935-1997) will attest. A contemporary of the aforementioned postmodern practitioners, the Austrian- born artist’s retrospective at Modern Art Oxford showed before several of her works go on display in The World Goes Pop exhibition opening at Tate Modern later this month.
Kiki Kogelnik’s art has rarely been seen in New York aside from a superb 2012 show of work from the 1960s at Simone Subal, despite the fact that the artist, who died in 1997, lived in the city for the entirety of her adult life and maintained close friendships with other significant artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg. With “Cuts, Fissures and Identity: Works from the 1960s and 70s,” a second exhibition at Simone Subal that opened this past November, Kogelnik’s art feels hard to ignore; it puts pressure on a Pop moment we thought we knew, and, in doing so, forces us to reconsider things we may have guessed about Pop but were afraid to ask.
This is Skull, a vinyl hanging assembled around 1970 by a little-known Austrian artist named Kiki Kogelnik. She was active in New York in the 1960s and 70s, straddling Pop art and feminism, and died in 1997. Her work is now having its second solo outing at Simone Subal Gallery in New York. What particularly intrigues me about this work by Kogelnik is its unique mix of goofy 1960s optimism (in its materials and forms) and bodily threat (in its subject matter). Come to think of it, that’s exactly where you’d imagine a smart feminist to be taking Pop art.
Two silhouettes cut from sheet vinyl, one black, one butterscotch, hang from two coat hangers that are looped through wire to the canvas’s upmost edge. Slung against an acrylic gradient (pink-rimmed azure melted in lavender), each silhouette traces the contours of a body once full but now flayed: an enervated membrane, all surface and no sex. Sterile yet strangely seductive, like moltings from a space being, they treat the body as schema or sieve, limp and radically inorganic.
“I’m not involved with Coca-Cola,” Kiki Kogelnik avowed in 1966, marking her distance from Pop art, or at least its consumerist strains. But making the association was sensible enough. After moving to New York in 1961 (encouraged by Sam Francis, whom she’d met in Venice), the Austrian artist befriended Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, and visited Warhol’s Factory; her early stateside output—in painting, drawing, prints, and sculpture—admits Benday dots and spray paint, flattened forms and jazzed up surfaces.
Kogelnik began her career as a gestural painter, showing in Vienna with the likes of Arnulf Rainer. After mov- ing to New York in 1960, she abandoned abstraction, a decision reinforced by encounters and subsequent friend- ships with heavyweight figures on the burgeoning Pop art scene such as Roy Lichtenstein, OÌ?yvind FahlstroÌ?m and Claes Oldenburg. By the early 1960s she was mak- ing figurative paintings, drawings and assemblages that combine Pop art’s immediacy, industrial techniques and materials, as well as concern for Suzi Gablik’s “surrogate world of the mass media,” with the allusiveness of Dada and Surrealist montage—notably Picabia’s mechanomorphic figures—Machine Age idealism and the formalism of European modernist abstraction and design.