Natural Selection, a photograph by Karen Knorr is May’s featured work. Part of ‘Reframing the Past’, a special display at the Government Art Collection, this work is also available to view during this month’s Museum at Night tours.

Natural Selection

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Natural Selection is from Visitors, a photographic series by Karen Knorr, consisting of images that she photographed in the grand interior of a former 19th century railway station, currently the Museé d’Orsay in Paris, the. In each photograph, stuffed apes and monkeys resemble spectators in the museum’s sculpture hall. Substituting monkeys for humans, Knorr alludes to hierarchical distinctions that traditionally apply to categories of natural history and the history of art. Knorr’s image suggests that these categories are arbitrary, perhaps even meaningless. As she explains, the title of the work is a playful description that makes fun of:

… the possibility of naturally selecting any one of the works as superior within a hierarchy perhaps not too dissimilar to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Making an ape the main subject of her photograph is also a direct allusion to the French 17th and 18th century painting tradition of singeries – depictions of monkeys, dressed in human clothes, engaged in human activities. Singeries reflected art’s perceived ‘civilising’ influence and more vividly, its powers of imitation. Knorr’s work raises questions about mimesis, asking us to question exactly what is real or a copy, including the photograph itself, the stuffed monkeys and the cold, marble statues. When asked to explain the significance of the monkey apparently wandering around the museum, Knorr commented:

… there is an anarchic transgressive element with these animals roaming freely – a bit like women being able to roam in such rigidly demarcated institutions as the Gentlemen’s Club.

Karen Knorr was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She spent her childhood in Puerto Rico and studied in Europe. She lives and works in London and is a visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths’ College and the Surrey Institute of Art. In 2010 a monograph was published on Knorr’s photographic and film work to date.

Knorr’s work is represented in many public and private collections including the Arts Council of Great Britain; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto and San Francisco Museum of Art. Since 2000 Knorr has had major exhibitions in London, France, Turin, Geneva and Belgium. More recently her photographic series, India Song (2008–2012) explored the relationship between different social castes in India. Works from this series were exhibited at the Danziger Gallery, New York in 2011 and at Art Hampton, USA in the following year.



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