Dirty Elements: Katherina Olschbaur

Katherina Olschbaur, Dirty Elements, 2019, Oil on Linen, Diptych 78 3/4 x 157 1/2 in.

The law is not patriarchal because it denies the existence, even the power, of women...The law is patriarchal because it denies the bodies, sexualities of women. In patriarchy, there is no menstrual blood.
–Kathy Acker


The University Art Gallery is pleased to present a series of new paintings by Austrian-born, Los Angeles-based artist Katherina Olschbaur in Dirty Elements, her first solo institutional exhibition in the U.S. On view in the Contemporary Arts Center Gallery January 11th through March 14th, 2020.


Olschbaur provides a female perspective to a history of canonized male painters, whose work simultaneously inspires her. Although traces of matriarchal order in Western thought typically appear as a mythological apparition, Olschbaur paints a narrative that subverts our expectations under the normative language of patriarchy. For Olschbaur, art historical tropes are appropriated and used like garments, worn then cast aside in a process that is ever changing and moving within each work. In this way, Dirty Elements investigates the power dynamics of patriarchal order and its violent denial of female sexuality. Referencing a wide spectrum of thought, Olschbaur’s practice takes root in mythology, religious and historical paintings, the subcultures of S/M, and film. Embracing Georges Bataille’s concept of the formless, the paintings explore the dirty elements of our carnal nature. In so doing, they feature provocative and erotically charged scenes that are at times humorous and disturbing.


Olschbaur’s practice involves a process of fervently sketching out these scenes before painting them. Working in a wet-on-wet process, she paints on a malleable surface that is in a constant state of disruption, where scenes formulate out of an amalgam of autobiographical, historical and imaginary narratives. In this layered process, her paintings elicit the expressive freedom to create order that only leads to disorder. By creating angular compositions, tension builds between the narratives by disallowing any singular perspective. This dense and meditative space is reflected by focusing on representations of the body as a site of repressed desire. Placing gender constructs into question, figures are seen bound, trampled or falling into animated plasticity. The backdrops are dark and ominous landscapes formed through a mirage of artificial colors, while the foregrounds are pregnant with smooth glossy bodies that sometimes transpose into animals. Without relying on meaning alone, the works contemplate a space between seduction and malaise, moving beyond the silent surface of the canvas.


Katherina Olschbaur (b.1983, Austria; lives and works in Los Angeles) has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Gnyp Gallery, Berlin (2019), Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles (2018), OOF Books, Los Angeles (2018), PØST, Los Angeles (2018), Galerie Werkstadt Graz (2016), Museum Spoerri, Austria (2011), MUSA Vienna (2011). Recent group exhibitions include Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles and Bucharest, Christine König Galerie Vienna, PG Art Gallery, Istanbul, Museum Gironcoli, Austria, Salzburger Kunstverein, Kunsthalle Krems, and at Symbiosis - XI Biennale de la Mediterranée, Thessaloniki. Awards and residencies include IBK Painting Prize (2018), Red Gate Residency, Beijing (2017), Theodor Körner Prize (2009).


Virtual Tour:


Exhibition Checklist

Download the checklist here. 


Katherina Olschbaur
Allyson Unzicker
Contemporary Arts Center Gallery
Exhibition Dates: 
Jan 11, 2020 to Mar 14, 2020
Saturday, January 11, 2020 - 2:00pm to 5:00pm
Thursday, January 23, 2020 - 6:30pm
Visiting Artist Lecture Series: Katherina Olschbaur

Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) Gallery

Join us Thursday, January 23rd at 6:30pm for a lecture presentation by Katherina Olschbaur on her exhibition Dirty Elements currently on view in the CAC Gallery.

Free and open to the public. This event is part of the UCI Department of Art Lecture Series. The Series is designed to be an opportunity for the UCI community to engage in dialogue with guest artists from a variety of disciplines and perspectives in the field of contemporary art. 

Katherina Olschbaur: Dirty Elements, ed. Allyson Unzicker, University Art Galleries, UC Irvine © 2020