Clay Ketter

“You'll always find me in the kitchen at parties”: This syndrome could almost be the underlying reference of Clay Ketter's work. The “Kitchen Pieces,” which put him on the map in the mid-'90s, are based on modules from IKEA, Sweden's worldwide furniture manufacturer—kitchens everyone recognizes (or perhaps even has). They're a piece of global monoculture and thus a “non-site” in one's own home where family and party guests gather. Surface Habitat with Void, 1997, for instance, is a sort of tableau consisting of a built-in kitchen (which Ketter, a trained cabinetmaker, has altered in various ways) and including, on the back wall, one of Ketter's “Wall Paintings,” an abstraction whose white patches are reminiscent of the impressions left by freshly removed wallpaper.

Given the three-dimensional nature of his work, one might wonder that Ketter defines his art exclusively as painting. For him, a row of kitchen units becomes an image the moment, for instance, he installs a flat surface such as a pane of glass. Ketter certainly raises questions about the transition from the image on the wall to the object in space with his negotiation of the boundary between two and three dimensions. But he never stops at such art-immanent formulations of the issue; he always links them to their social connotations. And he reverses the itinerary of an artist like Donald Judd, who started with the autonomous object of art and only much later extended the form into a usable piece of furniture. Ketter's work, by contrast, begins with the functional kitchen unit. Step by step he strips away its serviceability and works in the direction of the art object. But his point of departure is the social as theme. At the same time, he assumes an ironic, critical stance on the autonomy of the art object: Has the Minimalist aesthetic degenerated into a commonplace of functional design? Was it Minimalism that made IKEA possible in the first place?

In Lund Basement Wall, 2001–-an example of Ketter's more recent work with facade motifs-the subject is normative architecture in certain everyday situations. In this case, he's worked with the functionally standardized architecture of a motel reproduced in green pastel, a small window with closed venetian blinds beside the door. The missing doorknob marks the dysfunctionality of the artifact. In general, Ketter's “Trace Paintings,” resembling fragments of wall, play on what's lacking, the absence of objects like electrical boxes, cables, or closets that have left palpable traces. Distant Relative, 2001, displays a wall arrangement he might have found and photographed in the home of an old aunt and then used as the model for his image. Beside the impression of bookshelves—the individual spaces of which he has depicted à la Color Field painting using simple house paint—a tabletop has been attached to the wall on its end so that it looks like a door. Through the medium of painting and with materials from the hardware store, Ketter reconstructs traces where real objects never existed. Joshua Decter once aptly called this the “virtuality” in Ketter's work, because these traces do not point into the past but into sheer possibility. Their poetry is of the everyday. Starting from the impressions left in space by the junk of daily life, they build a new beginning.

Nina Möntmann

Translated from German by Diana Reese.