Berlin-based photographer Kiki Kausch exploded onto the contemporary art scene in 2005 with a portrait of Karl Lagerfeld, and has since become one of the world’s most successful female portrait artists. When her “Merkel, Power and Models” exhibition at Villa Kennedy was interrupted by lockdown, she was inspired to work on a new project. Our interview paints a portrait of the person usually behind the camera.
Tell us about your background as an artist…
“My path into art was not predetermined – it is marked by beautiful coincidences and a desire to follow my instincts. In my first job as a TV news editor, I quickly learned that everything in society is connected, and that images are the most important instruments – they reach our brains faster than words.
As an artist and a photographer, my first work was a triptych showing Karl Lagerfeld in New York at a Chanel shooting. It was a crazy coincidence that I got those shots. After my work appeared in an exhibition in Berlin under ‘no name’, serious collectors suddenly wanted my photographs.
For artists, there is no guide to success. One can only try to give everything and whether it’s a success is determined by others. The art business is very complex and always changing. Artists no longer necessarily need galleries or fairs to be visible. The internet offers a new platform; but the physical experience is indispensable.”
And how would you describe your work?
“My works are characterised by an aesthetic demand - by zeitgeist and timelessness - in every theme there are stories that happened to me. I love to be constantly surprised. For my "3 Minutes With" series, I had the chance to portray numerous Hollywood stars, without any specifications or agreements, which felt very unique.”
How did your relationship with Rocco Forte Hotels begin?
“Photography combines so perfectly with my passion for travelling the world and I owe Rocco Forte Hotels a lot, because my very first solo exhibition took place 10 years ago at Hotel de Rome in Berlin. It was the first time ever that art was temporarily hung there, and it really complemented the existing interiors, designed by Olga Polizzi. My collectors are from around the globe because, as a hotelier, Sir Rocco Forte thought internationally from the very beginning.
I have already had a total of six exhibitions in Rocco Forte Hotels – the group employs fantastic people, from doormen to management. Hosting an exhibition in a hotel presents different challenges to a museum or gallery. It's all about inspiring guests, getting them talking and maybe making a difference to their day, without the pressure you might feel in a gallery.”
What prompted you to examine feminine power in such a unique way in “Merkel, Power and Models”?
“The theme is more topical than ever. I met Angela Merkel in the German Chancellery in 2015 at the beginning of the refugee crisis and I feel the photograph I took is a tribute to her leadership and attitude. Other featured women included Cameron Díaz, Toni Garrn and a beautiful Arabic airplane pilot – I hope she’ll be a role model for young women. Strong women do not need to show muscle to make their way. To convey this message in my art with intelligent ease is a lot of fun.”
How have you spent lockdown? What do you have planned for your next exhibition?
“After two weeks of lockdown, something came to my mind: how do we make something out of this complex once-in-a-lifetime feeling. How will we view this time in one or five years? I was interested in melancholy and also the poetics and enchantment of the moment yet always aware how many other people were and are in a desperate situation.
For “43 Days”, I portrayed 43 Berliners in their homes or wherever they felt at home – this included actors, athletes, the city's only three-star Michelin chef, muses, makers and managers (including Hotel de Rome’s General Manager, Gordon Debus). Normally it would take months to organise something like this, but everyone had time. To keep to the rules, I took pictures with my Leica from a ladder – it was a one-on-one shoot with no assistants.
These were people who were not close to me personally, even figuratively, because I wanted to achieve an unbiased moment. They were all blind dates. In this respect, I was infinitely grateful for the trust placed in me and I had the impression that everyone dealt with the situation pragmatically or in a highly creative way. I really absorbed it. And it became so much clearer what health, freedom, love and togetherness actually mean. If you can combine this with your work, it is a gift.”
Your editions always feature a limited number of photographs…
“Fine art photography is all about limitation. With me, it's always an edition of three to 10, which must be strictly adhered to. That is the precious thing. I will always stay with that, regardless of sales. I am a little proud to be one of the most expensive female photo artists and to have achieved this in an unorthodox way.”
Coming back to Frankfurt, what makes it a special city and how do you spend your time there?
“Frankfurt is practically home. I grew up around the corner in Wiesbaden. My daughter was born there. We Hessians invented green sauce and apple wine, for Goethe's sake. Nothing more is possible. Frankfurt has become really casual. Fashion Week leaves Berlin and comes to Frankfurt. Who would have thought it? A touch of Paris, Milan, New York is on the way. I am already looking forward to my first flight again to Frankfurt!”
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