Douglas Kolk


Douglas Kolk (1963, Newark—2014, Boston) was a USA-born and based artist whose life and practice were closely intertwined with Berlin’s artistic milieu of the 1990s. Kolk’s work revolved around questions of identity, initially through small-format drawings and later through large-format collages combined with painting. The exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, featuring Douglas Kolk’s works from the collections in Berlin, marks his first retrospective in more than a decade, inviting us to rethink the current image of the 1990s pop culture. Kolk delved into processes of self-loss and self-recognition through identification with youth subcultures, to which he was particularly sensitive in terms of their visual dialects.

Kolk extracted clichés from various media of his era—the language of advertisement and glamour in the 1980s and early 1990s, commercialised underground culture, drug addiction, apocalyptic prophecies, anime, popular movies such as Matrix, bands like Depeche Mode,—and repurposed those as recycled material in his artistic production. Kolk’s characters, sometimes high but always trendy and stylish, are trapped in a perpetual search for themselves. Yet, what they encounter are only phrases reminiscent of lines from rock hits or magazine headlines: “everyday is everyday, Boys”; “This isn’t home, forest girl”. These words, alongside casts of popular media images and graffiti tags, explain nothing, paving the way for the melancholy and repetitiveness within the series. Some of Kolk’s heroes and heroines, unable to define themselves in any other manner, reveal themselves through a grotesque emotional display—the embodiment of their presence. As the art historian Oliver Zybok puts it, Kolk’s works show that the human being who becomes the object of their own investigation is so complexly human that it cannot be explained with concepts derived from scientific theories.

The artist himself noted that the 1990s were big for him. During that time, Kolk achieved success with his first group show at New York’s David Zwirner and started a long-lasting collaboration with Matthias Arndt, resulting in Kolk’s personal exhibitions at Arndt & Partner in Berlin in 1994, 1998, and 2006. Kolk also presented solo exhibitions at Kasseler Kunstverein, Künstlerverein Malkasten (Dusseldorf), Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst (Ghent), Kunsthalle St. Gallen, and Stephen Friedman Gallery (London).

With kind support from the Arndt Art Agency Berlin, Melbourne.

23.02. – 17.03.2024
Tue - Sun: 2 - 7pm
Admission free