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Interview with Anna Kunz

Anastasia Karpova: First of all, thank you for sitting down with me to talk about your work. Let’s start by having you talk a bit about how you first became involved in Spectral Landscape (with Viewing Stations) and working with the curators, John Neff and Pamela Fraser.

Anna Kunz: Pamela had this intimate exhibition/conversation space called “he said/she said” with her husband Randall Szott, so I knew her through that. One day I went to visit her studio and she mentioned casually that she was curating a color show. After I showed her some work created during a residency in New York, she and John [Neff] both agreed that I should be invited to be part of the show. My whole body of work is based on an initial response to color, or working with color in a diaristic way, so I was really excited to be contextualized in the right way.

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Jacob Dahlgren, Demonstration 5 December 2007, 2007, performance.

Karpova: You were in another group show on color in the fall (Color: Fully Engaged, curated by Jamilee Polson Lacy, at Columbia College). Why do you think there’s this interest in color as of late?

Kunz: I feel like the cultural moment of today is echoing the 60s somewhat, the heightened color of the 60s with Vietnam, etc. It wasn’t heightened to be decorative, you know, or attention-grabbing necessarily. It was a moment of hysteria culturally, so color starts to signify alarm. Today is a political echo. As much as we think this is the antiseptic war, people are still very concerned, and artists have our antennae much higher than most people. This idea of semaphore color that I use is based on this retinal exhaustion of the after-image that happens after you look at art. Also David Batchelor’s Chromophobia, it’s really good that he brought all this stuff forth. You can have all this paranoia when you work specifically with color. It’s thought that if you work with color, that it’s not as rigorous.

Karpova: You mean that conceptual interests rank higher than color exploration in art hierarchies? Maybe that’s why color is making a comeback, people are starting to get over that?

Kunz: Yeah, I think the pendulum is swinging. It will only be for so long, it might already be at the end and heading back the other way. We are inundated and evolving to experience time so differently. Our point of reception is changing, our sense of time is different, and we’re evolving to understand color differently, too. Brightness in color and high-keyed saturation is faster to receive and more hard-hitting than murkier colors. We’re in a culture of immediacy so it makes sense aligning brightness and saturation.

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Anna Kunz, Pyramus and Thisbe, 2010, latex on scrim and wall, 144 x 240 x 180 in.

Karpova: So in your work, you’re not necessarily trying to create any specific feeling through color, but rather an overall sense of immediacy.

Kunz: It is immediacy, and it’s experiential if anything, because there is a physiological dimension to color. If I stare at this glass and then close my eyes, this after-image carries on to this plate, you know? That has a lot to do with this retinal exhaustion, where you can use color and have a physical response in your body that you carry away. If I show you this painting I’m already reaching you because I’ve given you that. 

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Anna Kunz, Outside, 2012, Plexiglas, latex, wire, and acrylic on scrim and plywood floor panels, 130 x 40 x 53 in. Photo by Allison Moore.

Karpova: I’m seeing a connection between what you’re saying about providing a lasting experience for the viewer and your installation for this show, which extends physically into space, even incorporating an element outside the gallery. How did your thinking for this piece evolve?

Kunz: Any time I work in installation, I like the idea of improvisation, but it can become meandering unless you have some variables and constraints. So the architectural elements provide always some sort of proportion, scale, variable, and constraint. I feel most inspired trying to figure out ways painting can become elastic. It’s kind of like jazz music where there’s a structure but there’s room for improvisation. It’s performative in that way.

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Anna Kunz, Untitled with Shadow and Light, 2011, latex and acrylic on canvas and latex on scrim, 168 x 240 x 96 in.

Karpova: You faced a particular challenge in the space at Gallery 400. The room has windows, but it also had to remain dark due to a video projection in the same area. How did you deal with that?

Kunz: I knew I had to work in a different way than I usually do. [For this piece] I worked with darkness first and then built light into it. The other way I’ve worked is thinking about painting with daylight, using daylight as a formal element. Jacob [Dahlgren]’s really beautiful video [Demonstration 14th of June] had to be projected in the space, so I originally designed the piece to be dark with an aperture. As I started to see the piece develop and became aware of how Jacob’s work was going to be installed, I decided to add more light incrementally. I was idealizing that if I add a little more light, the scrim’s color-cast would kiss the wall and take care of that whole hallway, which I thought to be pretty dead space.

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Anna Kunz, Outside, Plexiglas, latex, wire, and acrylic on scrim and plywood floor panels, 130 x 40 x 53 in. Photo by Tom Van Eynde.

Karpova: How did the colored wood panels then become incorporated?

Kunz: It came from me being really concerned that the work would be contained within the frame of the window, and I wanted to bleed it out into the space. I don’t want it to be associated with a curtain, and necessarily thought of as decorative. That’s a really hard thing to solve, and it did take some thinking.

Karpova: And the mirror element?

Kunz: Color is a property of light, and color theory encompasses lots of things: hue, value, saturation or intensity. What’s often overlooked, especially in Western culture, are all these other properties of color: transparency and reflection. Transparency and reflection I’m interested in including lately because it enriches the whole discussion of color. Secondly, because in our cultural moment, we hear more and more the words: transparency, reflection. It’s my way of giving a nod to that in a metaphorical way.

Karpova: Why did you choose that specific color?

Kunz: The semaphore color came from when I looked out the window in the artificial light of the gallery, I chose the color of the after-image. I also had the feeling that red would be a very stable color, in that soft, wobbly hallway, red would be stabilizing.

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Anna Kunz, Painting Lounge, 2003–10, acrylic on cardboard boxes and oil on panel, 240 x 480 in.

Karpova: Do you find your installations more successful because of the active experience?

Kunz: The experience, also the scale. The theatrical experience is really interesting to me. I feel it’s really the way we see, with all of this other choreographed stuff going on.

Karpova: What kind of work would you be making if you were color-blind?

Kunz: I would be male, so who knows? To go along with this though, I suppose the work would be concentrating on texture and form instead of color. Maybe scent would enter into it. Maybe I’d just cook.

Anna Kunz’s site-specific installation Outside is currently on view in Spectral Landscape (with Viewing Stations) at Gallery 400 through June 9. To learn more about Anna Kunz’s work, visit her website.
Anastasia Karpova is a curatorial intern at Gallery 400 and writes for Newcity.