"Silke Otto-Knapp" exhibition at Regen Projects curated by Kitty Scott

Silke Otto-Knapp’s show at Regen Projects in Los Angeles is her second solo presentation with the gallery, complete with work from 2012-2021. It was curated by Kitty Scott and is the first show since her untimely passing in October 2022. What I was struck by more than any one single painting or drawing in the show was the curation of the work in the back room of the gallery. Naturally, it took time for me to process the entirety of the show and it dawned on me as I sat down to write this short article that, unlike the lobby and front room of the gallery, there was a complete absence of people in the selection of work hanging. No dancers in circles, no Shakers situated in ritual, unfolding within the performative space of her painted stages. There were no people posing, receding and advancing into space, demarcating and creating the pictorial structure itself.

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Silke Otto-Knapp, Land and Sea (Rainbow), 2019, Watercolor on Canvas; Regen Projects, Los Angeles

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Silke Otto-Knapp, Sun and Clouds, 2020, Watercolor on Canvas; Regen Projects, Los Angeles

In the front gallery you’ll see paintings and drawings with figures who exist alongside geometric forms hovering in space, as in Schattentheater (Chalk Circles) from 2017, which indicate movement and choreography. They wait and move in abstract motion, yet remain remarkably still. They’re waiting. Those types of contradictions in painting are exactly where the art is made. The work is certainly foreboding and somehow dark, but over the course of looking, you’ll actually see that the restrained, monochromatic paintings and drawings always face outwardly into the world with optimism, reminding the looker that language itself is malleable and dynamic and it’s generated everyday by human beings. The potential for meaning to be produced from all of this is always there, it just takes looking and actual, legitimate seeing.

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Silke Otto-Knapp, Clouds, 2021, Watercolor on Canvas; Regen Projects, Los Angeles

The most explicit example of the artist’s presence is undoubtedly A series of images following one from the other. Eine aufeinander folgende Reihe von Bildern from 2018-2021. Here you’ll see an associative stream of drawings, photocopies and newspaper clippings that coalesce into a very long, rhythmic, geometric horizon line. I took it to be read from left to right, but the longer I sat with the series of images, the more I moved back and forth analyzing the formal cues, dancing through each sheet of paper as if it were its own large scale panel. The real beauty of studies and studio artifacts presented this way, is that while you look, it’s very easy to become superimposed onto the artist’s afterimage, if that makes sense. It’s as if she is still there, in perpetuity, arranging and choreographing, waiting for you to sync up with her and join the movement. The newspaper clipping with the image of the moon was particularly poignant as I read Murakami’s 1Q84 and wondered if I, myself, hadn’t unknowingly been dragged into an alternate reality the moment I walked in the door. I also wondered what Silke Otto-Knapp would have said about the work of William Kentridge. I suspect it would have been wildly illuminating.

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Silke Otto-Knapp, Landscape with Rainbow (2), 2019, Watercolor on Canvas; Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Where the work in the lobby and front room were more about figures and choreographed, performative spaces, the paintings in the back room were strikingly without people. It was impossible not to be immediately struck by Clouds from 2021, which was a response to Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV from 1965. Whereas O’Keef’s was a continuous band of repeating shapes that receded into a horizon line, Otto-Knapp’s was a multipanel arrangement of forms that eschewed continuity and explicit optimism, yet by some stroke of brilliance, was still communicated very clearly in her touch.

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Silke Otto-Knapp, Landscape with Rainbow (1), 2019, Watercolor on Canvas; Regen Projects, Los Angeles

The curatorial brilliance of Kitty Scott was on full display in the back room.  Here you’re confronted with a palpable absence of figuration and left to yourself to look into silent and heavy expanses of space that seem to suggest something has ended, perhaps the dance was over. It was admittedly difficult to be in the room, but it was also perfect and necessary.  As I looked into the horizon lines of her work and registered the subtlety of her paint application, my own optimism and belief in painting as a vital form were strengthened and reaffirmed. The rainbows and sunsets, the land and sea and perhaps the most moving painting in the show, Sailboat all contain within their edges the touch of a brilliant artist gone too soon.

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Silke Otto-Knapp, Sailboat, 2012, Watercolor on Canvas; Regen Projects, Los Angeles

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Silke Otto-Knapp, Early Shaker Spirituals (After W.G.), 2018, Watercolor on Canvas; Regen Projects, Los Angeles

INFO: Silke Otto-Knapp’s show at Regen Projects

From the Press Release:

Silke Otto-Knapp (1970–2022) was born in Osnabrück, Germany, and lived in Los Angeles, where she served as professor of painting and drawing at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. She earned an MA from Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, in 1996, and a Degree in Cultural Studies at the University of Hildesheim, Germany, in 1997.

Otto-Knapp’s work is held in the permanent collections of museums including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Art Institute of Chicago; Belvedere Museum, Vienna; Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg (Mudam); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Serralves Foundation, Porto; Tate Modern, London; and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; among others.

Kitty Scott is a renowned curator in the field of contemporary art with decades of experience leading Canadian art institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She has organized numerous exhibitions including Beautiful world, where are you?, the 10th Liverpool Biennial (2018), and A way out of the mirror, Geoffrey Farmer's project at the Canada Pavilion for the 57th Venice Biennale (2017). She was an agent for dOCUMENTA (13) (2012) and has written extensively on contemporary art for journals, books, and catalogs.

For more information contact Regen Projects at www.regenprojects.com
Instagram: @RegenProjects