Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne, Germany
For this show at Daniel Buchholz, Jutta Koether treated the invitation card as an independent component of her exhibition, just as she had done two years earlier at the same venue. At first glance, this colour photograph resembles a snapshot, but the objects depicted seem too carefully arranged to be the result of an accidental composition. On a wooden sideboard in front of a white wall is a selection of objects. The flash has been fired head-on, giving the photograph a washed-out appearance. Only the upper edge of the sideboard is visible, supporting a dark-blue vase with purple blossoming flowers, a beige brochure with the title Paris, mon coeur leaning upright against the wall, an untidy pile of cassette cases, a little ghetto-blaster and, on the right-hand edge, partly bled out, an electric lamp.
However different the image and its medium may be from Koether’s exhibited work - she is a painter, showing new drawings - the card nevertheless operates as an introduction to the show in terms of theme and colour. Its three dominant hues recur in the backgrounds made of different materials (beige Tibetan paper, grey metallic card and indigo linen) on which Koether has mounted the drawings as tableaux, sometimes in groups of more than 20 at a time.
Another trail leading from the invitation card into the gallery is laid by the subject of music, indicated by the ghetto-blaster and the cassettes. Koether is co-editor of the German music magazine Spex, and regularly writes articles about pop. She is also co-founder, along with Rita Ackermann, of the group Diadal (Hungarian for ‘triumph’) in New York, where the two artists live. In her exhibition two years ago, five songs that she had recorded played continuously in the gallery, corresponding to the five paintings in the show. In this new exhibition, entitled ‘billet-doux’, her involvement with music appears in a different form. The first drawings, which hang in the foyer, are cover designs for Diadal’s debut album. Called ausser Haus (Out of the House, all works 1998), these LP-format works are obscured by green paint (at one point you can make out faces arranged in a grid, a motif that also crops up in other works). This overlapping and layering is further reinforced by the shiny foil attached to the drawings, which reflects the gallery and the viewers, including them in the image.
Key to Koether’s work is her method of bringing pop music into her art as a way of making it appeal to a wider public. On their own, her paintings and drawings tend to create a private effect, compounded by the enigmatic photograph on the invitation card. But by calling the cover designs ausser Haus, she is identifying her dealings with music, whether they are practical or journalistic, as public action, as stepping outside the circle that she closes with her drawings. Inscribed on one of the drawings is a quotation from the Mexican poet Octavio Paz: ‘Every room is the centre of the world’. It is from these secluded rooms that she is sending out her ‘billets-doux’, which remain private, but are placed in public settings.
With their thin lines and sparsely applied transparent colour, Koether’s drawings are best described as ‘fragile’. Even when abstract patterns dominate, it is always possible to make out figurative details, usually bodies. She also works with mounted insertions, paints over advertisements, and uses arrangements of scraps of paper containing shopping lists and telephone numbers.
Koether interweaves these complex components, both familiar and strange, in arrangements that allow her to remove the exclusive quality of the individual image and thus its hermeticism. Not only does she balance the drawings with the three types of coloured background, she also creates links with different compositional arrangements, though these are not carried through rigorously. In ausser sich (beside oneself) she centres the images, in mein Herz heisst Dennoch (My Heart is Called Nevertheless) she uses a circle, and in Aerial Robe the horizontal dominates. Additionally, there are two albums on a desk, into which Koether has fixed a series of drawings, 18 in one (Choses Vues), and 66 in the other (Dream of Everyone, Everywhere). Floating within a personal, non-rigorous order, tableaux and albums are simply forms of presentation, each of which functions as a window onto the rooms that Jutta Koether defines as the centre of her world.
Translated by Michael Robinson