The most significant consequence of the digital age has been the flattening of information hierarchies, which is most manifest in the form of the common meme. This phenomenon, first mentioned in The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins’s 1976 theoretical tome on gene-centric evolution, was defined as the cultural equivalent of a biological gene: “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”
The study of these self-replicating units of culture is called “memetics.” The Ancient Greek word “mimesis,” a near-homonym, concerns the representation of nature in art as a metaphor or model for truth, goodness, and beauty—the trifecta of ideal human characteristics. Cleverly, Karen Kilimnik’s current show of paintings and collages at 303 Gallery salutes a conceptual portmanteau of both memetics and mimesis by reimagining classic works of art and portraiture as being populated with cats instead of grand odalisques, as in thank you, I’m rested now. I’ll have the lobster today, thank you, and by poking fun at the grandiosity of classic male-dominated pastoral scenes in meta works like “going off to the Battle” tapestry–off to a glittering start. (The verdant landscapes are resplendent with glitter.)
The works, all petite and either muddily Renaissance, Rococo, or Romantic in style, neatly line the perimeter of the gallery’s main white-box space, while several other paintings hang in a small back alcove cordoned off with red velvet and dimly lit by a crystal chandelier. Their accompanying titles, which ostensibly double as jokes, stand in for a veteran tour guide, self-consciously feeding the viewer a running commentary of puns, double entendres, and quips—a few of which are almost bewilderingly unfunny (zzzz-huh? what, me, asleep? no I wasn’t!).
The joy of tangible originality is absent in Kilimnik’s works in favor of this effortful, albeit overly precious, display of wit. Works such as the adoration of the cats, which implants a clowder of cats in the midst of a scene lifted straight from either Leonardo or from Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, are ready-made for endlessly recycled viral fame on platforms like Tumblr or Instagram, as light, bright, and coyly insubstantial as the distraction we so desperately crave.