Oil on canvas
9 7/16 x 7 1/4 inches (24 x 18.5 cm)
© Jutta Koether
Courtesy Lévy Gorvy and Galerie Buchholz
Untitled (1983) dates to Koether’s early years in Cologne. Intimately sized, like ritual objects or fetishes, her paintings of the 1980s bear witness to her search for alternatives to both standard narratives of modernism and then-dominant models of neo-expressionism. Seeking other ways to be, and to be as an artist, she looked to esoteric and dissident modes, like Surrealism, the landscape paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, and the late work of Philip Guston, “sipping” them, so to speak—as the title of two paintings in the exhibition, Some Esoteric Sipping (1986), proposes. In Untitled, an asterisk, set within in a black oval, hovers above three tear-shaped geometries within a field of thickened, luminous yellow. Recalling both cellular organisms and celestial bodies, their forms structure the painting as a confluence of disparate scales. Its brushy impasto and pairing of red and black—typical of Koether’s work from this period—emphasize the materiality of paint, here presented as a metaphor for flesh. Dense and deliberately crude, its surface effects a sense of spatial compression—one that would relent in the mid- to late 1980s through lighter, more liquid applications of paint. Held between abstraction and figuration, Untitled transforms the canvas into a suggestive terrain, at once biomorphic and cosmic.