© Images Roman März
26 FEBRUARY – 29 MARCH 2008
The Dresden and Düsseldorf art academies during the early 1960s, the popular class of Karl Otto Goetz, student friendships with Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Konrad Lueg (who would become the group Realistischer Kapitalismus in 1963) and a first, self-organised group exhibition in a Düsseldorf display window space – all in all a good start to the artistic career of Manfred Kuttner, who died last year at the age of 70. In 2007 the Tate Modern in London featured his work along with that of Anselm Reyle and Thomas Scheibitz in the exhibition The Artist’s Dining Room.
After emigrating to West Germany with his wife in 1960 to flee the repressive circumstances in the GDR, Kuttner produced a body of work with a distinctive formal vocabulary of its own in only four years, from 1961 to 1964. This was described by contemporary critics as “kinetic painting” because he brought an abstract rhythmisation to his canvasses – or to old curtains and other fabrics – in the way he applied the then newly available neon paints. He himself said that he was concerned with achieving immediacy with colour composition, and was particularly taken with Yves Klein’s use of colour. Some of Kuttner’s images do indeed have an almost magnetic visual “pull”, but he was not interested in the mechanical, fastidious precision of Op Art. His painting is more nonchalant, often reduced to simple grids, and is more reminiscent of the compositions of Mary Heilmann. Reduction and rhythmisation are frequent strategies in his paintings, as well as his drawings – some of them executed on newspaper – which are exhibited here for the first time.
In his other artistic activities, Kuttner focused on the objects of the contemporary world around him, applying neon paint to various (plastic) toys, a typewriter, the academy piano, and the chair and bicycle saddle exhibited here. This work suggests Dada and Pop Art, and is no less visually compelling. The work that perhaps unites all his interests most strikingly is the 8mm film entitled A-Z. Kuttner’s formal approach was to expose each frame of the film as a photograph and to hand-colour a number of interjacent unexposed frames. His subject matter is street signs, advertising, private images, artworks produced by his friends – all of it arranged into a walk through Düsseldorf from his flat to his studio at the Academy. In 1965 Kuttner decided for the “A” of the film – i.e. to provide for his family by earning a regular income as an advertising graphic designer – as there were very few collectors for his work at the time. Those who did know his work, as he himself said at the time, assumed that this “newfangled neon painting” would never last for more than a year and were hesitant to buy. As it turned out, it has now lasted for more than 45 years.