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jutta koether at pat hearn gallery

by William McCollum  

I Choose Everything

WB I: (William Burroughs)

Love Call of Life
& Song of Action


Hymn before sunrise
   Jutta Koether combines the elements of painting -- color, line, gesture, figuration, even text -- into densely layered works that are both splendid to look at and inspiring to think about. Her fifth solo exhibition at Pat Hearn is titled "Songs of New York & Co.", and has a soundtrack of atmospheric music composed by the artist, who plays organ with accompaniment by ex-Television maestro Tom Verlaine. The sound is at times creepy and at other times warming.

The works in the main gallery are covered with grids of happy faces. Simply rendered, these suggestive marks could easily represent the essence of subjectivity in modern society. So many people in close proximity, yet very much separated, very much uncertain. Some of the faces have even mutated extra Reviews, as if to better exist in the lattice of lines.

Three works in the show are entitled WB. Are they homages to the pop-cult behemoth, Warner Brothers? No, the citation is of three dead white males: William Blake, William Burroughs and Walter Benjamin. At first glance, WB III (Walter Benjamin) appears to be a simple, Minimalist black canvas. In fact the work is covered by the scratchings of a ball-point pen writing texts by the famous Frankfurt School theoretician, a kind of marriage of automatic writing and automatic citing.

The striking diptych in the back gallery, Love Call of Life & Song of Action (the left panel is called Keteresque and the right WB II (William Blake)), is perhaps the most effective work using handwritten fragments of discourse. A big, sumptuous dark canvas with snippets of writing, the work almost seems like a single long journal entry rather than a slogan-covered wall.

Since the end of the Postmodernist `80s, painting has seemed defeated, doomed to reanimate the corpse of its earlier triumphs as nothing more than market-validated decor. Koether remains commited to painting as an analytical project, in which the composition of the art work, the viewer and the artist are revealed as a jumble of text.

Jutta Koether at Pat Hearn Gallery, Sept. 13-Oct. 18, 1997, 530 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.

WILLIAM MCCOLLUM is a New York artist and writer.