One of the things Karen Kilmnik’s Fairy battle installation at IMMA does, because of her extreme take on form and content, is separate the…

The what? Getting a handle on an answer to that may be what is radical about the show. For some, this will be one of the best shows of the year; for others it may prove to be something of a no-go area. Both responses may operate simultaneously.

The work is an animated representation of the artist’s interior life; all her wishes, dreams and desires are gathered here: ballerinas, charming fairies, wistful photos of snow scenes, over-the-top velvety paintings of flowers, spangly horses and… It’s about here the split occurs.

Karen Kilimnik: Planning the Attack of Malta, the Mastermind, 2001; water soluble oil colour on canvas and audio cassette, 20 x 16 inches; courtesy 303 Gallery, NY/IMMA; © Karen Kilimnik

This feels like shopping. Can we agree to meet up later in the Hardware Department?

Kilmnik presses the Warholian envelope; but now it is not just popular imagery…Elvis, the soup cans, the Brillo boxes – when presented with technical and formal panache, that can acquit as art; it is that the signs of ‘kitsch’, technical awkwardness and formal ineptitude, may similarly signify as art.

Does anyone care any more about what ‘art’ is? Does nobody get it about the Readymade?

Kilminick advances Duchamp’s contextual insight, turning up the heat by bringing, not just the outside inside, but by bringing what is bad art from the outside, inside – to be authenticated there – as ‘good’ art.

Wasn’t that the eighties? Trying to tell the good ‘bad painting’ from the bad ‘bad painting.’ And don’t only Germans care about that?

A major achievement of Kilminick’s work is how it introduces ‘sincerity’ as a viable emotion. Not exactly Rousseau-for-our-times, but this gentle redress to the brittle ironies of so much contemporary art disarms the viewer, transporting us back to blameless times, when the very signs of our halting attempts to get at an essential understanding of things were sufficient of themselves to constitute ephipanies.

Sincerity! Suicides are sincere. Have you read the notes they leave? Guilt. There’s guilt here. For some reason, my not liking this, is making me feel guilty. Children can do this to you. Neglect.

This artist, however, is no out-of-control casualty of an uncaring world.

Karen Kilimnik: The Evening Fairy Alights at Bedroom Window, 2002; laser print, glitter and archival glue, 11 x 17 inches; courtesy 303 Gallery, NY/IMMA; © Karen Kilimnik

There is joy here and a knowingness and guile that will go the distance. She orchestrates the prestigious setting; painting walls exotic colours to valorise tiny pictures which are further enhanced by chandeliers hung on either side.

The word ‘banal’ keep insisting itself. This is banal.

Seldom has banality had a more passionate advocate. Her velvet-gloved, steely ambition supports an extravagant journey through the febrilities and poignancies of cherished mementoes, transforming the familiar and the simple into complex meditations on ‘familiar’ as a spirit of place, an apparition. The banal as site of the marvellous.

Karen Kilimnik, Ragley Hall-Tour of England, 2000, water soluble oilcolour on canvas, 14 x 18 inches; courtesy 303 Gallery, NY/IMMA; © Karen Kilimnik

I’m only getting the ‘steely ambition’ component?

Not everyone can engage with this domain. Some will feel an instinctive, emotional response that allows them to navigate easily in this enchanted world, using Kilimnick’s visual cues to embellish and extend their rich, near-primal, sympathies.

Is this a nature / nurture issue? I never got Peter Pan. Ever. What a wimp. I couldn’t wait to grow up.

Others will feel alienated, repelled.

I have seldom felt so offside. Have you thought much about ye olde offside rule, Karen? It’s fascinating. Diamond and Christmas Tree formations. O, it’s exclusively beautiful. And pointless. Can you dig it, Karen?

If a social role for art is to interrogate the inequities of the status quo; to modify set consciousness; to redress past hegemonies and illuminate the unseen, then Kilimnick’s world can expose inimical cultural constructs, clenched mindsets and two-dimensional, cartoonlike responses.


Noel Sheridan is an artist who works in a variety of media.