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Les filles du calvaire : Karen Knorr


From March 11 to April 29, 2023, the Les Filles du Calvaire gallery presents a panorama of Karen Knorr‘s work, unveiling an unpublished selection of her most recent photographs, alongside major works from her historical series, little seen since the 1990s for a new generation and a new audience to see.

Based in London, the photographer rose to prominence in the 1980s when the imagery of the famous American “Picture Generation” permeated the art world. Karen Knorr’s work was rooted in a British context taking a deep interest in the critical debates that circulated around postmodernism and feminisms in Great Britain. From the outset, Knorr oriented her reflections on post-colonialism and its relationship to aesthetics.

The first black and white works of Karen Knorr, associating text and image, are linked with the process of appropriation of images carried out in particular by Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine in the exhibition “Beyond the Purloined Image” organized by artist Mary Kelly in 1983 at Riverside Studios. The methods of disruption and distancing deployed in these early works continue into her most recent work, “Questions After Brecht”, a video presented for the first time at the gallery.

Documentary photography has a long tradition in Britain, and one must imagine the historical context of renewal from the 1970s, of questioning and reinventing itself. In the following decade, the “new documentary” was inspired by the processes of contemporary art by manipulating the notions of authenticity and truth. This come into play in the work of Knorr where a carefully observed reality and consciously constructed illusions mix. She then develops a critical and playful dialogue with documentary photography by using different visual and textual strategies to explore her subjects, which range from the family (and way of life) to the animal and its representation in a museum context.

Between 1979 and 1981, Knorr composed Belgravia, a black and white series that combined images and ironic and humorous texts. The whole thing sheds light on the aspirations, the lifestyle and the British class system during the Thatcher era. She then produced Gentlemen (1981-1983), a series made in the men’s clubs of Saint James in London, to critical acclaim. She examined the patriarchal and conservative values ​​of Great Britain at the time of the Falklands War. Later, the series Country Life (1983-1985) critiqued aristocratic values, property and considers the Scottish border landscape. In 1986, with Connoisseurs, Karen Knorr used color to explore “English connoisseurship” or “the art of the connoisseur”, with values ​​of authenticity and heritage. The interiors of the Chiswick House, the Osterley Park House and the Dulwich Picture Gallery serve as settings for her productions.

The use of texts and subtitles appears as a means of slowing down the consumption of the image and of offering a commentary on the received ideas which corrode museum culture and the Fine Arts. Karen Knorr continues to use these strategies through her photo collages of animals, objects and models in museums and official architecture. Let us mention here the Academies, Fables, India Song or Monogatari series. These works also question the authority and power of heritage sites in Europe, India or Japan.

“The itinerary offered by the gallery Les filles du calvaire in the work of Karen Knorr highlights the artist’s appetite in her insatiable search for a mobile positioning, a camera-eye that never ceases to multiply the viewpoints, never settling down, nor wallowing. The artist-researcher that she is, curious about others, about the world around her, rubs shoulders, using images whose codes she perfectly masters, with political and social bodies. In parallel with the scientist and philosopher Donna Haraway, theoretician of situated knowledges, the photographer operates a permanent and critical decentering in order to always get out of the obvious and discuss this (those) multiple that make up the margins”. Marion Duquerroy (excerpt)

In thirty key works, this exhibition offers a look at the work of an emblematic figure of contemporary photography. Through her political and artistic commitments, Karen Knorr has developed a singular and critical body of work, the extent of which the gallery wishes to highlight.


Karen Knorr
from March 11 to April 29, 2023
Les filles du calvaire
17 rue des Filles-du-Calvaire
75003 Paris

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