The Swans: Artwork by Karen Kilimnik & Dresses from Stephanie Seymour
The Swans is part of Picturing Fame, which is comprised of four concurrent exhibitions, ruminating on the subject of fame and celebrity.
The Swans is one of four concurrent exhibitions that ruminate on the subject of fame in Picturing Fame. It mixes Karen Kilimnik’s romantic paintings, which cull sources that range from popular culture to Old Master paintings, via television shows, movies, books, magazines, animal portraits and fairytales, with selections from Stephanie Seymour’s collection of vintage haute couture, created by the designers Azzedine Alaïa, Cristóbal Balenciaga, André Courrèges, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Paco Rabanne and others. The resulting exhibition consists of imaginatively calibrated vignettes of paintings and fashion, which celebrate glamour, beauty, fantasy and the occult through the eyes of two singular yet overlapping perceptions.
Fashion model icon, actress and collector Stephanie Seymour (born 1968) and Karen Kilimnik (born c. 1955) formed a natural bond of friendship. Each achieved renown in their respective fields in the late 1980s and 1990s. Seymour and her husband Peter M. Brant are long-time collectors of Kilimnik’s work. Seymour has also curated an exceptional collection of haute couture, most dating from the mid-twentieth-century reign of such high society women as C.Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, Babe Paley, and Lee Radziwill, who regularly landed on the “International Best Dressed List.” Writer Truman Capote, who idolized these women, and dubbed them the “Swans,” ultimately got too close to their flame, which led to his personal and professional downfall.
While the posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec concurrently on view in Picturing Fame: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Follies of Fame, represent his contemporaries in the fashion of their time, both Kilimnik and the fashions featured in The Swans reimagine the glamour and romance of bygone eras from the 18th century to the Belle Époque of the turn of the 20th century.
An installation of theatrical vignettes comprised of arrangements of the dresses from Stephanie Seymour’s collection with Karen Kilimnik’s paintings, drawings and 3-D work was presented at Brant-Timonier, Palm Beach, in 2022. The project was expanded and re-contextualized as The Swans for the four-part exhibition Picturing Fame organized by Bonnie Clearwater, Director and Chief Curator, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, in association with the Brant Foundation and the assistance of Carol Ugalde and Casey Paul.
Since the late 1980s and early 1990s Karen Kilimnik (born, Philadelphia c. 1955) presented a series of exhibitions featuring paintings, photographs, drawings, installations, sculptures and films arranged around the exhibition space. Kilimnik’s paintings include portraits, landscapes, houses and interiors, animals and scenes from the ballet. In her paintings Kilimnik renders mythology, femininity, and historical and fictional themes through her confident, loose brushwork. Her pastiches of old master paintings and glamorous modern-day celebrities reflect her theatrical approach to her art, including her “scatter” floor works of the 1980s, which are carefully staged mis-en scenes. Like a film director she selects set locations, such as the English red brick country house that is a recurring image, and populates her work with celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, who have a talent for creating memorable characters. Publicity photographs often serve as her sources for portraits, paintings and drawings.
Kilimnik occasionally references herself in some of her work, such as in My Sister and Me (1987), which is based on British artist Sir Thomas Lawrence’s painting The Calmady Children (1823). As a small child Kilimnik thought that this picture, which was reproduced on her mother’s wastebasket, represented her sister and herself. Me Waiting for My Drug Dealer Boyfriend…Park Avenue…oops…forgot—the Village, 1967 (1999) imaginatively transports the artist to an edgy time in New York’s East Village that preceded her own adolescence.
Switzerland, the Pink Panther & Peter Sellers & Boris & Natasha & Gelsey Kirkland in Siberia (1991) is an example of Kilimnik’s “scatter” work in which the 1960’s comic strip of the scheming Cold War cartoon spies Boris and Natasha intrudes on a bucolic snowy camping scene of plush stuffed dolls, ballet slippers, a fondue pot and chocolate bars. The Pink Panther, made famous in the animated credits for the comedic jewelry heist films starring Peter Sellers and the animated television series in the 1960s, is another recurring pop icon in Kilimnik’s work. This wily character, which was a favorite of Kilimnik since childhood, was emblematic for other artists of her generation including Jeff Koons (Pink Panther, 1988).
Kilimnik’s meshing of stars, fashion and art came naturally to the artist who in her youth grasped the anachronisms of the attire of 1960s rock stars. As she stated in Interview magazine, “In the ‘60s, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and everyone dressed up as the 1700s fashion icon Beau Brummell.” Her approach to her work is similar to that of her contemporaries who draw on personal and historic sources, such as artists Rita Ackermann, Christian Holstadt, Mike Kelley, Candy Noland and Raymond Pettibon, and fashion designers, such as Anna Sui and Vivian Westwood, who forged punk and grunge rock styles out of the high and low fashions of the past.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, internationally renowned supermodel Stephanie Seymour Brant has appeared on the covers of over 300 fashion magazines, walked numerous international runways, and has worked with some of the most renowned photographers in the industry while representing the world’s top design houses and cosmetics companies. Some of the photographers with whom Ms. Seymour has worked include but are not limited to, Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, and Herb Ritts. Designers include Azzedine Alaïa, Comme des Garçons, Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Gianni Versace, Vivienne Westwood, and Yohji Yamamoto.
Over the course of her fashion career spanning over thirty years, Seymour has gained a great exposure to the arts, through which she began collecting exceptional examples of historic jewelry, contemporary art, and haute couture. At present, her collection features chief examples across each category extending from the early 20th century until today; including seminal pieces by Alaïa, Balenciaga, Dior and Yves Saint-Laurent among many other key houses in design of the 20th century. A selection from her collection of haute couture dresses are on view in the NSU Art Museum exhibition The Swans.
In parallel to her diligent development as a collector, Seymour works alongside her husband Peter and their family art foundation, The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, with the goal to promote education and appreciation of contemporary art and design, by making works available to institutions and individuals. Concurrently, Seymour has worked to raise funds for the Child Mind Institute, an organization dedicated to transforming mental health care for children. Recently, Stephanie Seymour has been appointed by the Foundation Azzedine Alaïa to be president of the Circle of Art and Design for “The friends of Azzedine Alaïa”.
Supermodel Stephanie Seymour speaks about NSU Art Museum’s exhibition The Swans: Artwork by Karen Kilimnik & Dresses from Stephanie Seymour.
Support for Picturing Fame is provided by Sandra Muss.
Additional support for Picturing Fame is provided by Jacqueline Niehaus.
Fortuny, Haute Couture, 1909-1920
Karen Kilimnik, the castle great staircase, Scotland, 2007. Water soluble oil color on canvas.
Christian Dior, Haute Couture, 1957-1958
Photo by Brant Timor.
Karen Kilimnik, Master Hare, 3rd Lord Grantham, 2011
Water soluble oil color on canvas. Photography by Allan Carlisle
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Major support for NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale is provided by the David and Francie Horvitz Family Endowment, the City of Fort Lauderdale, Community Foundation of Broward, the Broward County Cultural Division, the Cultural Council, and the Broward County Board of County Commissioners, and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts.