Photo: Ruairidh Bowen
Photo: Ruairidh Bowen

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.”

Photo: Ruairidh Bowen
Photo: Ruairidh Bowen

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.

Photo: Ruairidh Bowen
Photo: Ruairidh Bowen

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.

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