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Mills Art Museum presents: a fantastical world of dance and theatre

Peeking through the curtain we can see a performance of elegant ballet dancers. (All photos by Katy Kondo.)

Soft bellowing palettes of blue welcome visitors to Mills College Art Museum’s (MCAM) newest exhibition Dance Rehearsal: Karen Kilimnik’s World of Ballet and Theatre.  Visitors are immediately greeted by warm lights and the soft chirping of birds from the first video installation as they stroll through the door.

The show is MCAM’s first since its new renovations, and the first solo show for Kilimnik in the West Coast.

A famously reclusive artist, Kilimnik lives in Philadelphia and, though she is familiar to the East Coast audience as well as the international realm of contemporary art, it will probably be for many here in the Bay Area, a first glimpse at her body of work.

MCAM’s guest curator Melissa E. Feldman who has been active in the Bay Area since 2003, is an independent art curator, art historian and writer. Feldman  featured Kilimnik’s works from 1988 to the present, creating a weave of impressive mediums from the artist. Celebrating the dialogue that Kilimnik establishes between history and visual art creates a depth of intimacy in being allowed into the process and mind of an artist who’s making such connections with dance, art, and theatre.

Visitors stand outside the blue curtains while waiting to view a video installation.

The show is similar to that of a collage exploring the profound allusions of  dance to cerebral visualization of dance as art. The wide spectrum of the works shown vary from videos, photos and installations, to paintings and sketches.

One piece at the front of the show alludes to the great Edward Degas, who lived when the pinnacle of the fine arts scene in Europe, was essentially the Paris Opera Ballet.

The piece, Entrance of Masked Dancers c.1889 Degas (2011), is homage to the great impressionist artist who clearly influences many of her works. Straight across from the Degas inspired painting are five intimate photographs taken by Kilimnk of a dance rehearsal in 1999 for the ballet, Giselle.

Though some may assume Kilimnk’s works will lean towards the feminine ethos, as she emphasizes the nature and engagement of historical theatre and ballet, that was the last thing I thought when I was viewing the show. I thought more about the understated strength of the ballet dancer, mental and physical strength, as well as the grace and poise, rather than focusing on the normative and gendered ideals that tie to femininity and ballet.

It is apt that her first solo West Coast be shown here at Mills, as there is an unspoken connection created by the campus’ fecund atmosphere, lush attributes, and surroundings which closely reflect and inmitate Kilimnik’s aesthetics. Not only does the setting connect, but also the rich history of Mills College’s renowned Dance department presents another parallel to her collection.

Dance Rehearsal closes on December 9, and will then head to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver before Kilimnik’s first solo foray in the West ends.

Reflective, dreamy, and whimsical are all words that come to mind when I think of Kilimnik’s show, but I think guest curator Feldman said it best, Kilimnik truly takes the viewers into the intimate journey of the “phantasmagorical world of ballet and theatre.”