Over the course of her career, Los Angeles-based German artist Silke Otto-Knapp has established a painting practice drawing on a rigorous process and remarkable attentiveness to the medium’s conditions and possibilities. Her works carry a certain enigmatic quality, the seeming simplicity of the reduced compositions belied by their layered, diaphanous surfaces and a powerful sense of atmosphere. In the waiting room brings together a new group of large-scale paintings, situated in a patterned arrangement of free-standing structures to form a kind of multidimensional stage set within the gallery. In some, silhouetted bodies stretch, ambulate, and contort, in the midst of a performance, or perhaps preparing for one. Others introduce more scenic elements, reminiscent of the painted backdrops used on proscenium stages to ground actions within a particular setting.
Each of these motifs introduces its own historical valences and particular sense of space and time to the works, quickly establishing a productive tension with the surfaces they occupy. A dancing body in choreographed position implies an experience of motion, as does the moon suspended over a body of water activating the ebb and flow of the tides. These dimensions exist in the paintings, but no more so than the shifting perspective of a viewer walking around them, or the changing light in the room as the sun traverses the sky. In Otto-Knapp’s work, all of these registers and more coexist within the coded space of the canvas. Hers is a profoundly painterly practice, stemming from a deep and persistent investment in pushing at the limits of the form and mobilizing its particular capacity to sustain such dynamics.
At the Renaissance Society, a number of these works are mounted on temporary walls, while another stands alone in the form of a folding screen. In context with paintings thematically linked to performance and dance, these structures might gesture towards conventions of theatrical staging, where decorative facades frame the set for a fixed audience. Here, they operate as both supports for imagery and as partitions in a provisional architecture of their own. Vantage points and patterns of movement flow from their positioning in the space, a loose choreography enacted by whomever is viewing them. And within the bounds of the canvases themselves, the stage is set for the kinds of complex interplay painting makes possible: referential connections, material traces, embodied perceptions of time and space, the sedimented weight of history, and more ineffable experiences of emotion and affect, all collapsed into and mediated by the pictorial surface. Hovering between figuration and abstraction, they deal in intimation more than narrative, hinting at scenarios with their own strange, choreographed logic without ever charting the steps.
Curated by Solveig Øvstebø.
SILKE OTTO-KNAPP was born in 1970 in Osnabrück, Germany, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Selected recent solo exhibitions include Midway Contemporary Art, Minneapolis (2018), the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2015), Camden Arts Centre, London (2014), Museo Marino Marini, Florence (2014), Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2014), and Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2013). She has also presented solo exhibitions at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley (2011), Kunstverein München, Munich (2010), Modern Art Oxford, Oxford (2009), and Tate Britain, London (2005).