Jutta Koether review by Jo-ey Tang
Jutta Koether’s latest exhibition of paintings is concerned with the way information is built up, condensed, and broken down within and beyond the pictorial space, and the mental and sociological space from which we look at paintings. A monumental work titled ‘Black Garland / Double Waterfall’ (2011) occupies one wall, set against a suite of five black plank-canvases titled ‘Mad Garland (Plank Paintings Set)’ (2011) across two walls. The shape of the planks, as potential horizontal and vertical structures, serves as a space to address issues of support, positionality and planes of reception.
The plank-paintings form an ‘L’ shape, in turn mimicking the metal L-shape brackets scattered throughout the glossy surfaces. Liquid glass pools on the surface and protrudes from the back of the paintings, dangling like frozen ice. The metal brackets, traditionally used to hold together wooden frames in the back of paintings, are here on full view, functioning as decorative elements, rather than as tools of support. Yet Koether’s work consistently erases the distinction between support and the decorative, arguing for a non-hierarchical way to conceptualise and experience paintings, towards what she terms ‘speculative realism’.
In addition to the metal brackets, various items are embedded into the liquid glass surface, achieving a sensual depth of flatness: door handle, twist tie, hooks, feather, leather keychain and bracelet, bedazzled keychain in the shape of the letter ‘K’, Art Berlin Contemporary VIP pass (this year’s theme was ‘About Painting’ where Koether’s work was conspicuously absent), knife, screws, thumbtacks, cheap necklace, ‘New York’ spelled out in arts-and-crafts materials, a plastic double-flame and of course, garland patches.
The plank-paintings were first used by Koether for the performance series ‘Grand Openings: ‘Return of the Blogs’, which took place in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in July 2011. Grand Openings is a collective consisting of five core members’Ei Arakawa, Jutta Koether, Jay Sanders, Emily Sundblad, and Stefan Tcherepnin. Billed as a singles-night, the planks were carried, physically negotiated, and danced around by the participants. In another words, the planks already ‘performed’ once and are now performing again as ‘paintings’ on the wall. The embedded objects, performing outside of their functions, serve up another kind of theatricality of its use-value. This constant pointing-outwards motion beyond the physicality of painting and the occasion of an exhibition is the driving force behind the work of Koether.
During the MoMA event, Koether addressed the audience-participants, according to Artinfo’s Ashton Cooper: ‘This is not a performance, nor a program, nor a theory - it’s a struggle. These planks have nothing to do with this world but everything to do with you… Use them to get together because you’re all singles…” She could have been talking about the state of painting as well. It is certainly not dead, but a perpetual struggle nonetheless.