Karen Knorr

1954 | Frankfurt, Germany
Karen Knorr — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Karen Knorr

American photographer.

Karen Knorr grew up in San Juan (Puerto Rico) and studied in Paris (American College and l’Atelier) then London (Harrow College of Art and Design and Polytechnic of Central London). Her passion for aesthetics and politics led her to meet Simon Watney, Laura Mulvey, Mary Kelly and Victor Burgin, who taught her about the relationship between art, philosophy and sociology, and whose influence would determine the rest of her career. Her photographic series combine aesthetics and politics through the use of human and animal figures. She caught the public’s attention in the early 80s with her photo series with texts on the British upper class: in the Belgravia series (1979-1981), her black and white photographs came with ironical captions that criticised the reactionary and absurd aspects of the lifestyle and social hierarchy during the Margaret Thatcher neoliberal era; in Gentlemen (1981-1983), she infiltrated gentlemen’s clubs in St James, London. She created a new expanded use of documentary photography which enabled her to develop a critical, humour-tinged discussion, in which she appropriates various visual and textual strategies to challenge her chosen subject : with the series Connoisseurs (1986), Knorr entered the space of the museum (Chiswick House; Osterley Park House; Dulwich Picture Gallery; Victoria and Albert Museum) to investigate preconceived ideas about beauty and good taste.

To this end, she introduced characters and animals into these spaces, and in doing so poked fun at the aesthetic conceptions we inherited from the 18th century. This piece marked the beginning of her recurring use of museums as backdrops, of which she has since continuously explored the layouts, patrimonial dimension, and heritage, as well as preconceptions about fine arts. After the series Academies, in which she also used video, came Fables (2004-2008), where animals became the main subject, and where she favoured colour over black and white. In the rooms of the Musée Condé in Chantilly, Hôtel Mangelas in Paris, and Château de Chambord, live or stuffed animals prompt unusual encounters between wildlife and the baroque splendour of heritage sites. Between the lines of these stories, which, among other things, bear a clear connection to La Fontaine’s fables, one glimpses the artist’s will to confront popular culture with heritage. More recently, K. Knorr has developed a series devoted to Indian heritage in Rajasthan. Her photographs have been the subject of a great number of exhibitions and are featured in several international collections (Centre Pompidou, Paris; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Moderna Museet, Stockholm). In 2018 she become honorary chairwoman for the British Royal Photographic Society.

Ludovic Delalande

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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