Critics’ Picks

Manfred Kuttner, Pair-Impair, 1963, tempera paint on fabric, 70 7/8 x 45 1/4".


Manfred Kuttner

Langen Foundation
Raketenstation Hombroich 1
July 19 - October 6

Manfred Kuttner’s oeuvre, presented in its near entirety for this survey exhibition, was mainly produced between 1961 and 1964. This time period is neatly encapsulated in an archival photograph from 1963—presented in the show—in which Kuttner stands on a balcony at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (where he was a student) next to a suite of his fluorescent pink- and orange-painted canvases and objects (including a pink chair, Holy Stool, 1962, also presented in the exhibition). Kuttner’s use of bright tempera on carefully worked-out optical paintings and compositions betrays a precocious talent. In Dual, 1963—painted when he was twenty-six—spiraling yellow lines form two circles overlapping on white jute canvas, while in Pair-Impair, 1963, two diamond patterns rendered in neon orange seem to roll into each other as they meet at a midway vanishing point. Passionately and urgently gestural, each work contains a simple proposition: that dualities inevitably collapse. Kuttner’s treatment of found objects invokes a similar sense of movement: A metal mattress frame from 1962 is colored pink and red, like a visionary, readymade predecessor of a Hirst spot painting. There is a visceral sincerity to this headfirst exploration into abstraction and its limits (or possibilities). Purposeful sketches and designs are included in the exhibition, including a meticulous storyboard Kuttner mapped out for his remarkable 8-mm film montage of urban life in Dusseldorf, A-Z, 1963.

Looking at Kuttner’s work today brings up questions around what could have been if he had continued working alongside contemporaries Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Konrad Lueg. Collaborators during the Kunstakademie years, these three, together with Kuttner, organized the “Demonstrative Exhibition” in 1963, which represented a rejection of established art venues. Perhaps Kuttner furthered this rejection when he abandoned art in 1965 to support his young family as a graphic designer, just as Konrad Lueg eventually became gallerist Konrad Fischer. But while this abandoned path certainly contributes to Kuttner’s enigma, it is the impression left by his unique burst of creativity that inspires awe. This is a coherent body of work, now standing the test of time.