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– Spring/Summer 2003

Unfinished Sympathies: On Jutta Koether's art

Thomas Groetz

Jutta Koether Untitled, 2002, one of 520 coloured pencil drawings in a box, 44.5 x 33.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin.

Jutta Koether Untitled, 2002, one of 520 coloured pencil drawings in a box, 44.5 x 33.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin.

I could never have imagined how I first came across Jutta Koether. In 2002 Maschenmode (Galerie Guido W. Baudach) showed the work of Helena Huneke in Berlin. One work consisted of a series of overlapping pieces of fabrics that, when drawn back, revealed the photograph of a woman. Looking more closely, I noticed a firm, penetrating gaze behind which appeared a certain vulnerability. It may be this vulnerable quality, fearlessly exposed in the photo of her, that makes Jutta Koether such a significant point of reference for the younger generation of artists. The fact that it is possible to take vulnerability seriously as a statement, without simply discrediting it as insecurity, is a very contemporary phenomenon. It is only today that fragility can be seen as an effective weapon, or at least as a defiant attitude, against the seemingly inviolable, perfect surfaces that dominate advertising, media, public life and art itself.

The perception of vulnerability as a quality only became possible once the 1980s fashion for 'wild painting' subsided. In 1985, when Jutta Koether had her first solo exhibition, the German art world was still dominated by fierce, intense and predominantly male artists. They each represented different trends: the intense, colourful outbursts by the Berlin Moritzplatz painters Salome, Rainer Fetting, Helmut Middendorf and others; the absurd word-plays turned large, spontaneous paintings by Walter Dahn and Jiri George Dokupil; the less wild, rough and calculated statements of the Büttner/Kippenberger/Oehlen trio. In particular, the latter three painters tried to challenge the self-satisfied comfort zone that the welfare state of 70s and 80s had seemingly become. Their use of gritty, abandoned subject matter, anarchistic gestures and deliberate political incorrectness was always