“India Song” by Karen Knorr

Since the 1970s, artist Karen Knorr has produced photographs that pose thorny questions about power, class, and the aesthetics of beauty. While appropriating landscape and still-life genres for her compositions, she often layers in a good dose of humor. In her “Gentlemen” series, for example, she pointed up the “boys’ club” nature of British government by captioning staid portraits of men in swank London gentlemen’s clubs with excerpts from parliamentary speeches. In “Muses and Majas,” she placed live nudes in galleries of the Louvre beneath their painted counterparts. Knorr’s recent project, “India Song”—recently released in book form (Skira, $45), with images accompanied by a Q&A with the artist—explores similar themes, but this time in the palaces, forts, and temples of Rajasthan, the state in northwest India known for its exquisite architecture and interiors, some dating from the 13th century.
Knorr disrupts viewers’ expectations by digitally inserting into those rooms live animals from the same region. The animals often seem to own the chambers they occupy even as their vitality contrasts with the eroded splendor of past civilizations. It’s a pleasure to think about the ideas behind these images, especially after reading about the project in the book’s opening essay, but Knorr will have to forgive viewers if they put aside the intellectual aspects from time to time to simply drink in the spectacular tiles, carvings, and murals that fill the architectural spaces she has chosen as her stage.