Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Jutta Koether @ DCA, review

The name of the seventeenth-century French classical painter Nicolas Poussin is seldom one to conjure with in the art world these days. Poussin is all about stern logic and precision, what the art historian and sometime Russian spy Anthony Blunt held up as the manifestation of divine reason. So the contemporary German artist Jutta Koether doing Poussin, she of the big, visceral, pop-inflected canvases? That might sound an unlikely pairing.

But here it is at the DCA, Seasons and Sacraments, a show inspired by two Poussin painting cycles. The first gallery is filled with the Seasons series first shown at last year’s Whitney Biennial, four large paintings each presented to appear floating on sheets of glass. These new takes on Poussin are raw and dynamic, busy with translucent layers and figures representing Old Testament scenes. There’s even a porcelain cat sat in the corner of Winter, quietly reflecting on the apocalyptic vista before it. A pink figure laughingly fondles apples in Spring. These images also have other, more contemporary motifs appearing in them: the zigzag of a financial market graph plots its way across the landscape, an emblem for our straitened times. Poussin’s visions of cosmic order are here brought down to earth and applied to the everyday.

Over in Gallery 2 are Koether’s responses to The Seven Sacraments. Ordination spans the whole of one wall, the red paintings at door height acting as “Mad Garlands”, some inscribed with slogans to occupy the undetermined space. Confirmation is interpreted as three sheets of glass that incorporate sculptural elements suspended in clear liquid acrylic. This frozen detritus, hanging in the centre of the gallery, includes a few exhibition door passes that are literally the keys to the art kingdom. Baptism features the German Formula One racing car driver Sebastian Vettel, a more contemporary idol for a global TV audience.  Koether’s revamp of classical antiquity brings Poussin up to speed with the zeitgeist, and the results are sparkling.


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