London, New York, Paris: we would traditionally associate these cities as centres of the world’s cutting-edge modern art. We would not, however include St Andrews’ closest city, small and humble Dundee, in this category.
But is the city worthy of being considered artistically significant? A fantastic exhibition that has just opened at the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts), may give us reason to argue so.
German-born but New York based multi-talented artist Jutta Koether is exhibiting her largest UK show to date in the gallery, featuring new work not yet shown anywhere else in Europe. Furthermore, this particular series of work was commissioned specifically for the DCA; a beautiful artistic centre in Dundee’s cultural quarter.
The story of Koether’s recent work begins in the summer of 2008, where she visited the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh and was particularly struck by a series of paintings known as ‘The Seven Sacraments’ by 17th century French Artist, Nicolas Poussin. Koether argued that in recent decades, painting has become a much less favoured medium of modern artist, preferring more outlandish media. However, seeing the majestic power of Baroque art convinced the artist that painting “could have a new life”. She stated that “seeing the work coincided with a growing interest of mine of looking at classical paintings and giving them a contemporary relevance.”
Upon entering the first gallery in the DCA, we meet the artist’s initial series: a re-imagining of ‘The Four Seasons’. This is a very traditional subject matter, across many artistic genres, from poetry to music, and is indeed very relevant to the Baroque masters such as Poussin who appreciated the beauty and complexities of the natural world. I was particularly encapsulated by ‘The Season IV’, a brooding representation of Winter, with strong angular shapes and diagonal lines, reminiscent of the work of Franz Marc.
Moving into the second gallery, we experience a dynamic transmedia reinterpretation of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Faith: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Penance, Ordination and Extreme Unction. Her style of painting is on the surface, chaotic and confusing, but there is a sense of order; particularly in her two depictions of marriage, where there is a clear narrative landscape created. On mere speculation, I understand her to strip Poussin’s compositions down to their bare and simplest form, and from there, reconstruct a work with a bold and contemporary stylistic approach.
Koether’s sculptures and installations may seem fairly outlandish; her depiction of Ordination is simply a tangled mess of LED lights on a wooden chair. In some ways, her contrasting forms of media may seem disconnected, despite following a theme. However, I feel her sculpture continues this concept of deconstruction, whilst maintaining the crucial element of Poussin’s work, which is a strong sense of drama.
Koether manages to transform, what is ultimately, historical art into a 21st century experience. Escaping the bubble is ever so necessary once in a while, and if one is feeling uncultured, a trip across the Tay may be very worthwhile indeed.
Jutta Koether’s exhibition ‘Seasons and Sacraments’ is on at the DCA until 21 April. She also has some pieces of art on display in the current Tate Modern exhibition ‘A Bigger Splash’ in London.