Bristol, UK/London

View of “Jutta Koether,” 2013.

View of “Jutta Koether,” 2013.

Jutta Koether

Arnolfini/Campolo Presti

View of “Jutta Koether,” 2013.

“Seasons and Sacraments,” Jutta Koether’s first large-scale show in the UK, presented at the Arnolfini, brought together three groups of work inspired by Nicolas Poussin: Embrace, 2012, a freestanding, three-part canvas created for the 2012 São Paulo Bienal that mimics a work attributed to the French painter in the collection of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo; The Seasons, 2012, a four-part painting originally shown at the 2012 Whitney Biennial; and The Seven Sacraments, 2012–13, an ambitious new group encompassing painting, sculpture, and video. Several additional works interlinked these Poussin-related pieces: Penance (Bristol), 2013, a Lucite-table-and-liquid-acrylic sculpture created specifically for this staging of the exhibition, which constituted the second leg of a two-venue tour (“Seasons and Sacraments” was first shown at Dundee Contemporary Arts in Dundee, Scotland); a video montage, Untitled, 2013, that includes footage of the performative aspect of the installation and presentation of the exhibition at DCA as well as the installation of Embrace in São Paulo; and a print based on a photograph of Queen Elizabeth on a horse at her Balmoral estate.

Poussin is frequently referred to as the “philosopher painter,” on account of the thoughtful and rational quality of his work. Philosophy is also not far from Koether’s thinking. “The Double Session,” the title of Koether’s recent exhibition in London, is also that of a 1970 essay by Jacques Derrida, which is a useful lens through which to examine Koether’s activity. The French philosopher opens with two text fragments, from Mallarmé’s “Mimique” and Plato’s Philebus, the former inserted in the lower-right corner of the latter. Thereupon and at length, Derrida deconstructs the distinction between copy and original, dissecting the hierarchical difference between the two and ruminating on the perfomative nature of the mime. Koether has constructed a similar approach to the traditional hierarchies of painting, treating it as an expanded field in which the painterly recalls the performative, sculpture can work as painting, and painting opens a broader discursive space for speech. Her results are unpredictable and full of possibilities. Underscoring this connection, the phrase THE DOUBLE SESSION was also scrawled on one of the dark lacquered pieces of wood on the floor in Extreme Unction, one of the “Sacraments,” in Bristol.

Just as Derrida treats “Mimique” and Philebus as occasions to deconstruct the notions of original and copy, Koether’s Seven Sacraments (also encompassing Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Penance [Bristol], and Ordination) acts as a double to Poussin’s epic series, itself existing in two versions, one of which is located in Edinburgh. However, painting per se does not appear to be her primary concern. Instead, looped images of Poussin’s works flash by on a video monitor as her Eucharist, while Confirmation consists of freestanding liquid acrylic sheets studded with objects that include Koether’s access swipe cards for various art institutions (metaphorical signs of entry into the Institution of Art itself) and lengths of cloth that recall the fabrics in Poussin’s painting. The work is completed with the paintings Marriage (a diptych), Ordination (a series of red horizontal plank shapes hung high), and Baptism. Copy and double, as in Derrida, vibrate in unison, the distinction between them loosening.

Neatly bracketed by Poussin and Derrida—her haptic sensibility playing alongside a love of sprawling textuality—Koether achieved a mise en abyme effect in her exhibitions not unlike that typical of Derrida’s writing. As with the philosopher’s work, a sense of play is foremost, in Koether’s case conveyed through not only her chains of references but her painterly touch; her mischievous revision of expressionistic paint-handling may prove to be her most memorable invention.

Sherman Sam