Los Angeles

Jutta Koether

Vielmetter Los Angeles

Regardless of one’s expectations of transparency, glass can be a deceitful, paradoxical material given to both illusion and allusion. This became apparent with the twenty-eight-foot-wide wall of glass (with white, painted wood edges) that served as a support for a dozen paintings in Jutta Koether’s third solo exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter, “Sovereign Women in Painting.” Mounted on this wall, facing the entrance, were Koether’s ostensibly “black” paintings, including four small, nearly identical, monochrome triangles with smears of dried resin. On the other side of the glass partition hung six “red” paintings, as the artist refers to them (rather deceptively, given their white backgrounds and range of pink and citrus hues), bearing everything from female figures to grids to text. Not only did the wall act as a clear support, revealing the backs of the canvases, it also served as a barrier that severed the angular gallery’s space roughly in half—a gesture that allowed viewers to be subtly reflected and theatricalized one’s mobile apprehension of the work. (The show’s coincidence with the Dan Graham retrospective at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art perhaps exacerbated this understanding.) The glass wall’s use as a support positioned it as a threshold between slippery immateriality and stubborn physicality—activating both possibilities at the same time.

Likewise, Koether’s paintings are conundrums that place fixity and substantiality in limbo. With JXXXA-PRRO1-12, 2009, a modestly scaled, prestretched canvas was printed with a line drawing of a Cézanne still life, which Koether then colored in a range of bright and hazy pastels, at times defying the drawing’s contours in favor of an allover dispersal: Blushing, sexual pinks and gossamer gold applied in loose, transparent brushstrokes appear vaporous as they leak beyond the skeletal black contours of the outlined Cézanne. Matched with JXXXA-PRRO1-12 on the wall’s opposite side was a similarly sized painting, Extreme Music: Black Metal, 2007–2009, in which a bramble of charred hatch marks and clear puddles of liquid glass provide a surface punctured by a nebula of thumbtacks that evoke metal studs on black leather. Defying initial material expectations, the puddles hold the tacks in place. The title of the latter work refers to a patch affixed to the painting (containing the phrase extreme music for extreme people), but it also alludes to Electrophilia, Koether’s noisy musical collaboration with the artist Steven Parrino, who died in 2005. (The four inverted triangle paintings in the show are from an ongoing series titled “The necessity of multiple inconsistent fantasies” that pays tribute to Parrino’s similarly damaged platonic forms.)

Music, a frequent Koether motif, connected a number of the works in the show, including the two largest canvases, Souveraine Nr. 4 (after Callas) and Souveraine Nr. 5 (after Peaches), both 2009. In these paintings, iconic female singers from different eras and genres are treated as quasi-religious icons, subtly backlit through the glass by a mix of gallery lighting and indirect sunlight: Opera legend Maria Callas, in a robe whose folds commingle with slashing brushstrokes, reaches out majestically toward the right edge of the canvas, while electroclash diva Peaches kneels down but is hardly subservient. In the latter picture, a sphere (which appears to be an s/m ball gag) rests on the singer’s crotch, attached with a studded harness and radiating red, ectoplasmic lines.

While Koether invokes plenty of men, from Cézanne and Parrino to occultist Aleister Crowley (the last in the painting Alostrael, 2009) and Situationist Guy Debord, the intense, unbridled energy of the Peaches and Callas paintings clearly announces the female sovereignty of the show’s title—and the strength of Koether’s ascendant position. In a smaller adjacent gallery, an untitled drawing on a standard sheet of bond paper affixed to a translucent window claimed the room for itself. Over a pink, pelvic triangle at the bottom of the paper, Koether inscribed a Debord line in all caps blaring THERE IS NOTHING MORE NATURAL THAN TO CONSIDER EVERYTHING STARTING FROM ONESELF. Alone in the gallery, the drawing generated a space for reflection—mirroring, if you will, the glass wall in the next room.

Michael Ned Holte