Oda Knudsen, Skibet skal sejle i nat (The Ship Must Sail Tonight), 1997, oil on canvas, 58 1⁄4 × 36 5⁄8".

Oda Knudsen, Skibet skal sejle i nat (The Ship Must Sail Tonight), 1997, oil on canvas, 58 1⁄4 × 36 5⁄8".

Oda Knudsen

With her gritty, uningratiating facture, her unruly mélange of blunt imagery and vigorous abstract mark-making, and her equally wayward blend of sarcasm and naïveté, Oda Knudsen could have easily fit in among the De Unge Vilde (the young wild ones) who emerged in Denmark in the 1980s, somewhat in tandem with German artists such as Werner Büttner or Martin Kippenberger. In fact, born in 1938, she was a generation older than those Danish painters (among them Claus Carstensen, Inge Ellegaard, and Berit Heggenhougen-Jensen). While “Kredit i flammer” (Credit in Flames) was Knudsen’s first posthumous exhibition, the artist had been actively planning it with curator Iben Bach Elmstrøm before her death last year at the age of eighty-three. I’d be tempted to use the phrase salon style to describe the helter-skelter installation of some thirty paintings, half a dozen sculptures, a couple of textile works, and a multitude of drawings—along with some harder-to-classify items, such as works made with recycled bags from boxed wine containers—except that salon suggests a place for some kind of genteel gathering, and this show was anything but a polite tea party. Instead, it generated an enthusiastic visual clamor in which there was nonetheless plenty of space for pensive reflection and uneasy questioning.

Only some of the works on view could be dated, and those were mostly produced between the 1990s and Knudsen’s death. Presumably, some of the undated ones were much older, but, in the absence of further information, one could get little sense of how the artist’s oeuvre developed over time. However, the resulting sense of near simultaneity turned out to be altogether appropriate, showing Knudsen to be one of those artists with a try-anything-once gusto. I can’t pick out typical pieces—only one-of-a-kind favorites. Among these is an untitled and undated piece painted in uniform tones of gray on an unstretched cruciform support pieced together from silvery plastic wine bags (a glance from the side shows their now-useless nozzles bumping up against the wall). At first one makes out, at the center, a wide, rather threateningly smiling mouth, topped by a pair of eyes looking off to the left. Only gradually might one discern, in the overall field of fluttering brush marks, that this comically menacing face belongs to a spiky-backed fish entering the picture from above.

Another of Knudsen’s triumphs of concision is Dyrene sover (The Animals Sleep), 1999, which, despite its title, shows no fauna in its symphony of yellows and blues, just a single, possibly naked man striding, at once off-balance and assertive, through what might be a rocky landscape. The almost total lack of detail makes it hard to say anything definite about what this painting really means to show, but the sheer visual force conveyed by its bluntness of form is undeniable. A related work that reveals a bit more, yet still without quite disclosing its meaning, is Skibet skal sejle i nat (The Ship Must Sail Tonight), 1997. Here, again, the composition is dominated by a male figure, bearded, and this time there is no doubt he is naked—there’s his penis to prove it. He wades through a watery surround with silhouettes of boats in the distance, while a couple of dark plant shapes rise up from the bottom of the canvas as repoussoirs. Throughout the show, images of men were more frequent than women, and often, as here, the man appeared both imposing and vulnerable—at sea, but persevering. In light of how younger women painters have worked in recent years to reclaim the female form, Knudsen’s effort to reinterpret the male body becomes all the more impressive for its relative rarity.