Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
Maybe “repetition” is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Jutta Koether and her artistic production in painting, drawing, performance, music, writing, and art criticism. The sheer number of fields in which she has positioned herself, while at the same time always referring to herself as a painter and referring the other work she produces back to painting, seems to belie such an association. Yet the compulsion to repeat, or repetition-compulsion, provides a framework that opens up a path for reflecting upon Koether’s work. However, to make it fruitful, one should stay clear of the somewhat banal reading of such “compulsion” as it is employed in reference to, for example, other “bad painting” and “deskilling” practitioners like the Oehlen brothers or, in the next generation, Jonathan Meese. Whether or not this does justice to the artists in question, adjectives like “compulsive” or “obsessive” are used in association with them as signposts to signal the presence of male mastery, enigmatic genius, and phallic fecundity.
Repetition-compulsion becomes a useful conceptual tool in situating Koether’s work neither because of its implication of dark and oblique expressions issuing from a hidden vital source, nor for the identity of genius informing the continuity of production. Rather, Koether’s work can be situated within the very split which repetition, the compulsion to repeat, engenders or produces. In the words of Jacques Lacan, whose thought, as mediated by Slavoj Žižek, is eminently important to Koether herself: “There is … an ambiguity in the use of the term Wiederholungszwang. There are two registers intermingling, interweaving, a restitutive tendency and a repetitive tendency” (Seminar II, p. 65–66). If the “restitutive” tendency can be aligned with the process of producing and cathecting objects that “raise the Thing to the dignity of the sublime,” which, beyond and besides all avant-gardisms, conceptualizations, de-materializations, and their various incarnations in modernism has always been the restorative function of art, then the “repetitive tendency” points to the level of the impossible cause, which always re-emerges, re-produces—which never ceases to insist. When in 1990 Koether finishes the list “Cezanne, Courbet, Manet, van Gogh” in one of her red paintings with “ich,” she engages in a gesture far riskier than any of her male counterparts had attempted, just as she does with her appropriations of paintings by the same “masters,” from Starry Skies (1988) all the way to Orchard, New York, Channeling Pointoise (2005). As the names reach across the whole width of the painting, written on top of what one could call signature swirls, which, lightly, as if in passing, open depth in an otherwise flat canvas, the small “ich,” while at first confronting with preposterousness, in fact points precisely to the repetitive cause of “repetition compulsion,” to a region of subjectivity, which is prior to any given name. While Koether’s reference to traditions is not at all ironic, it is also not simply accusatory or, certainly, nostalgic. Rather, while it performs repetition as restitution, as object-making painting it aligns this tendency with its fundamental double. What Lacan said about Freud could be said about Koether as well: “But at each turn he remarks that that isn’t enough, and that, after the restitutive tendency has manifested itself, something is left over which at the level of individual psychology appears to be gratuitous, paradoxical, enigmatic and is genuinely repetitive” (Seminar II, p. 66).
In her recent work, Koether has taken up this dimension more directly. In pieces like Unganzheitssymbole: K (Homage to Kenneth Anger, 2004) it is taken up almost literally. However, in Very Lost Highway as it was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 2006, what is important is that she does not ever remain on the “psychological” level of the abysmal, the paradoxical, or the enigmatic. Rather, by going to the limit of painting with painting, by conjuring up references, by positing the questions of how to be, or what to be, when impossibility remains the only true cause, Koether negotiates the path from restitutive desire to repetitive drive. This is far from any metaphysics of finitude or a fetishist love for absurdity and failure. But we should hear the artist herself speak about the space we have described as opening up between the restitutive and repetitive tendencies:“I see it more as finding oneself in a place where you can’t but produce glitches even if you would love to have it differently. I have been through phases where I really wanted to find a place, since I do love certain traditions so much, but it is impossible. I can’t have it because of what I am and the time that I live. It’s just not possible. But, at the same time, I do reject the idea that it is about constant failure only. It is embracing non-possibility, or what cannot happen, instead of just covering up. It’s an act of fully stepping into the impossibility” (Jutta Koether, Fantasia Colonia, Cologne 2006, p.158).
Lives and works in New York
|2007||Änderungen aller Art, Kunsthalle Bern,
Fantasia Colonia, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne
|2005||Very Lost Highway, Simultanhalle, Cologne|
|2004||Fresh Aufhebung—Künstlerisches Interesse am philosophisch verneinten Wunderglauben, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne|
|2003||desire is war, Galerie Meerrettich, Berlin|
|2006||If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, DeApple, Amsterdam |
The Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
|2004||Curious Crystals of Unusual Purity, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York|
|1994||Reflex: Die Neunziger, Wiener Secession, Vienna|
|1992||7 Rooms, 7 Curators, Institute for Contemporary Art, New York|
Jutta Koether, Fantasia Colonia, ed. Jutta Koether and Kathrin Rhomberg, exh. cat. Kölnischer Kunstverein
Isabelle Graw, “Peripheral Vision: The Art of Jutta Koether,” in: Artforum, no. 7 (March 2006).
Trade, ed. Matthew Higgs, exh. cat. The W.C. no.1, White Columns (New York, 2005).
Bennett Simpson, “Sie hat’s getan—ihr nicht!” in: Texte zur Kunst, no. 42 (June 2001).
The Inside Job, exh. cat. Galerie Bleich-Rossi (Graz/Vienna, 1993).