Acquisition: Kiki Kogelnik’s Pop-Era Painting, “Night”
The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired Kiki Kogelnik’s Night (1964), from the artist’s breakthrough series depicting techno-bodies and avatars floating in vibrant compositions of bold shapes and patterns.
Born in Graz, Austria, Kogelnik grew up in the southern town of Bleiburg, making her way to the Academy of Applied Arts and then the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where she studied graphic art, painting, and sculpture from 1954 to 1958. In the late 1950s, she painted in the gestural abstract style favored by many European artists of the period. By 1962 she had moved to New York, energized by the thriving artistic community. In an era shaped by the Space Race and the Cold War, Kogelnik became fascinated with the uncertainties and possibilities of a technology-driven future.
At the end of 1963 and in early 1964, Kogelnik began to paint a series of six large-scale works with vibrant floating discs and cut-out figures against backgrounds of metallic ovoids. Night, a colorful composition divided horizontally into earth and sky, is believed to be the final work of this group. The painting has been interpreted as showing two figures, gender-coded with pink and blue heads and bone-shaped torsos. Both figures extend one leg toward outer space, while the pink figure also has one foot on the ground.
In the late 1960s Kogelnik began to experiment with new materials, such as plastics, and engaged in performances, all while continuing to present the human subject in gravity-defying compositions and vibrant universes. By the 1970s her work was focused on the representation of women and the liberated female figure. Her “Hanging” series—vinyl silhouettes draped over clothes hangers—is a sculptural extension of her painted cut-out figures of the 1960s. Kogelnik would use vinyl as a material until the late 1980s. In the 1990s Kogelnik focused particularly on the head in new materials, including ceramic and glass, often reflecting the new wave culture that sprang up around her studio on the edge of the East Village.
Kogelnik died in 1997 in Vienna. She is one of Austria’s most revered modern artists and continues to receive overdue recognition internationally for her contributions to modern art. Recent solo shows include Kiki Kogelnik: Now Is the Time (Kunstforum Wien, Austria, 2023); Kiki Kogelnik—Les cyborgs ne sont pas respectueuses (Musée des beaux-arts de La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 2020); Kiki Kogelnik: Inner Life (Kunsthall Stavanger, Norway, 2017); Kiki Kogelnik: Fly Me to the Moon (Modern Art Oxford, United Kingdom, 2015); and I Have Seen the Future (Kunstverein in Hamburg, Germany, 2012).
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