How does a collective continue after its founder dies? This was a question that lingered over K.O.S., one of the most celebrated artist groups of the 1980s and ’90s, after Tim Rollins, its founder, died at age 62 in 2017. With Rollins no longer around to collaborate with them, the collective has chosen to continue working on its own, and it has now lined up its first show without him.
K.O.S.—short for Kids of Survival—has rebranded itself as Studio K.O.S. With the collective set to start anew, Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York, which has shown the group’s work for about a decade, will have its first exhibition of Tim Rollins and K.O.S.’s work since Rollins’s passing next month. Set to open on April 18 at the gallery’s West 22nd Street space, “Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: Workshop” will offer an informal survey of the collective’s greatest hits, with works spanning the past few decades.
“We had been talking about this show since Tim passed away,” Anna Stothart, the curatorial director of Lehmann Maupin, told ARTnews. “We all knew that it was important to have K.O.S. be an active participant in the conceptualization of it, but also for it to represent Tim’s legacy and the future of K.O.S. What that required was some time, so that when we did do it, everyone could be involved and had time to grieve.”
To organize the show, the gallery has brought on Ian Berry, director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum of Art at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, who oversaw a 2009 retrospective of the group’s work at the the museum. Though the collective’s founder will no longer be present to help produce new art, “Tim’s energy and presence is with us always around this work,” Berry told ARTnews.
On Saturdays during the show, Studio K.O.S.—which still includes some of its original members, among them Angel Abreu, Jorge Abreu, Robert Branch, and Rick Savinon—will be staging art-making workshops at the gallery. Students from local schools in New York will work with the group, and by the end of the series of workshops, the collective will have created a new artwork with the children. In the vein of past work by Tim Rollins and K.O.S., the collective will focus on literature, engaging students in discussion and art-making sessions focused on a contemporary book outside the Western canon. (Previous subjects for their work included Franz Kafka’s Amerika, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. Selections from series about all three books will be on view at Lehmann Maupin.)
Tim Rollins and K.O.S. began working together in 1981, when Rollins was asked to help develop a curriculum for Intermediate School 52 in New York’s South Bronx neighborhood. Designed to blend art-making and writing, Rollins’s program involved having students arrange pages from famous books and painting on top of them. Often involved in this process was something Rollins called “jammin,” in which students would read from literature while others would draw and paint.
For Berry, the collective’s work is “much more urgent than ever,” given that it touches on themes related to “the idea of justice, the idea of being critical readers of history, and of injustice and personal expression and storytelling.” He added, “Creative ways of working through our issues and experience are more needed than ever. Seeing the work in this social and political climate is all the more necessary.”