Gallery 1 & 2, DCA
9 February – 21 April 2013
This major new exhibition by German artist Jutta Koether represents a coup for DCA. Sensitively grouped and divided between the DCA’s two main two galleries, Seasons and Sacraments comprises Koether’s response to two series of paintings by the classical artist, Nicolas Poussin, The Seasons and The Seven Sacraments. Gallery one displays work that was shown at the Whitney Biennial in New York last year. The vast majority of the exhibition, located in Gallery two, is brand new, site-specific and commissioned by DCA.
The first gallery is dedicated to the four paintings executed in response to The Seasons. Each painting is suspended in a large perspex frame, which appears to hover within the space, an arrangement in keeping with the style of the paintings, which is rather like delicate scribbling. Koether makes no attempt to block the canvas with colour, there are areas of negative space which afford the work a translucent quality.
The paintings demand contemplation. Motifs and patterns from the originals reveal themselves, emerging in layers, advancing and retreating as the eye moves across the compositions. Spring and Summer are boldly worked in gestural brushstrokes of pure, bright pigment, with recurring garlanded whorls of paint curtaining the scene within. A recurring element within this exhibition is the depiction of the racing driver Sebastian Vettel. His strident racing colours and the brand names of sponsors on his costume present a dissonance from the pastorale of Summer.
Autumn is worked in subtler hues of blue, ochre and violet, suggesting the smoky light and abundance of harvest time. Two bearers carrying grapes, seen as small figures in the original, are replicated in Koether’s interpretation and magnified sketchily, the larger image taking up most of the canvas. Giant orb-shaped grapes predominate, but do not obscure the other motifs.
For Winter, the mood is much darker, with black whorled garlands now developing in the foreground; however, remnants of the original are here too, especially in flashes of colour of drapery and in the hazily suggested boat into which a baby is being passed. In the left foreground, a large red cat watches over the scene. He is not in the original, but his muscular back is shaped similarly to the dark rocks in Poussin’s painting.
Gallery 2 contains the Seven Sacraments works. Here, Koether digresses from the more literal reworking of paintings to include sculptures constructed variously from ropes of LED lights, Perspex and liquid acrylic poured on to surfaces,, and elements of broken ironmongery and jewellery. Penance is an effective abstract sculpture, with liquid acrylic flowing in drapes around broken objects like a healing balm. Only in Marriage does Koether revert to a similar treatment as in The Seasons, in interpreting two large works, hung one above the other, in a manner reminiscent of Salon hanging. These paintings are worked in joyous reds, pinks and oranges, with metallic paint giving a playful opulence to the scene of celebration. Again, the composition suggests the original paintings, with draped figures in bright clothing emerging from the narrative of the wedding celebrations.
The central work, Confirmation, around which the others in the Seven Sacraments series are hung, is a highly accomplished set of three large hangings that are suggestive of gendered figures and constructed from liquid acrylic, decorated with metal ironmongery, hessian, jewellery and other objects on huge glass panels. It is at once personal and yet remote; a depiction of an essential rite of passage for the artist. Indeed, one of the elements forming part of the ‘head’ of the first figure is an ID card bearing the words ‘KunstlerKarte’; perhaps a remnant from art college days, no longer required by the mature artist.
Although this exhibition comprises differing methods and materials to interpret the Poussin works, it succeeds in presenting the artist’s truthful and integrated response. It is refreshing to see an exhibition where painting predominates and I would recommend it for those who find conceptual art too dense or remote.