On view this month at Galerie Buchholz in New York, the gallery presents an exhibition by the artist Silke Otto-Knapp (1970-2022). Produced in the 18 months before the artist’s death last year, and conceived of specifically for the Buchholz space in New York, Versammlung (German for “assembly”) unites a series of free-standing paintings that depict a series of bodies traversing space, moving and floating through the gallery.
Made in black watercolor pigment applied on canvas in layers and washes, a practice Otto-Knapp developed for her work, the triptychs show a range of actions, with the first showing two figures ribbon dancing, a scene from the choreography “Spectodrama” by Xanti Schawinsky, a reference to Bauhaus dance and modern choreography that was an expansive theme for the artist. In another triptych, the artist recomposes a still from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1971 film “Beware of a Holy Whore” in which figures pose on a staircase. Regarding the third triptych, Otto-Knapp wrote: “The painting shows a stage where two figures embrace and almost merge into each other. This motif, adapted from a photograph of an early production of The Dreigroschenoper from 1930, is duplicated in the image. In Bertold Brecht’s play there is no person who is only good or bad: the criminal can also be an honourable citizen – and vice versa. The motif of the embrace, in which the characters almost become one in all their antagonism and contradiction, has something desperate and deeply touching about it. It is an expression of an intimacy that only seems to exist in this moment and only on stage.”
The artist here has created a dense layering of historical and cultural iconographies, culling together filmic and artistic history, bodies of work around performance and the body itself, and turns them into a series of swirling, connective works that seem to twist broad ranges of history into elegant, fluid compositions. Turning history and art into a swirling motif in its own right, a tribute to the artist’s own influences and inspirations, the show is a fitting final note in a career of challenging, cerebral, and ultimately, moving works.
The show closes January 7th.
– C. Rhinehart
Silke Otto-Knapp at Buchholz [Exhibition Site]