Time Out New York / Feb 8–17, 2010

Silke Otto-Knapp

In Silke Otto-Knapp’s gauzy new paintings and drawings, ethereal female figures drift through scenes borrowed from or suggested by the works of Ingmar Bergman, Anton Chekhov and the Brontë sisters. A few also make reference to Florine Stettheimer, an artist who hosted salons in the West 58th Street apartment that she shared with her sisters during the 1920 and ’30s. But the specificity of these more or less avant-garde historical sources rapidly falls away in works that feel very much about traditional concerns about color, composition and the space of the canvas, both as a stage for narrative and a frame for metaphor. That the pictures’ context is, broadly speaking, “modern” is really all one needs to know.

Rendered, for the most part, in watercolor and diluted gouache on canvas, Otto-Knapp’s images have the look of faded sketches or retinal afterimages, evoking the remembrance of things past. Many are traced in silver, gray and pallid shades of green, brown or pink; a few make selective use of more saturated hues. In all cases, the details of faces and places have been passed over in favor of an almost cartoonlike simplification. This can result in an awkward, even amateurish, feel—subject Quartett (with frame) to a mental thrift-store test, and it’s not hard to imagine it going for a song. But Otto-Knapp’s work can, at its most effective, achieve something like the periodic fades to red in Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, intimating mortality and the metaphysical by veiling the minutiae of life.

Image: Silke Oto-Knapp, Red Room, 2010