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"In difficult situations art can be really powerful" - The "Artist of the Year," Imran Qureshi, in an interview
Auratic Cabinet of Curiosities - Rosemarie Trockel's Art Cosmos at the New Museum
Viaggio in Italia - Photography in the Deutsche Bank Collection in Milan
"Disguising the Obvious" - Amy Cutler's Enigmatic Drawings
Imran Qureshi, Deutsche Bank´s “Artist of the Year” 2013
"If everyone likes it, then I´ve done something wrong." - Anselm Reyle at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg


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“Disguising the Obvious”
Amy Cutler’s Enigmatic Drawings

With magical realism Amy Cutler conjures up a fairytale-like world populated exclusively by female beings. Girls meet to hurl cakes in the forest, while women weave their long Rapunzelesque hair. Christiane Meixner on Cutler’s bizarre gouaches, to which an entire floor of the Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt is devoted.

The young woman is looking upwards, because she has no other choice. Miniature conifers are growing in the décolleté of her dress, forcing up her chin. The woman in Amy Cutler’s drawing Conifer (2008) from the Deutsche Bank Collection does not look very happy. She seems resigned to her fate, which declares her body to be a mountain or Mother Earth and which compels her to look up at the sky ceaselessly. She looks as though she has grown together with the trees to such an extent that if they were chopped down it would endanger her life.

Conifers are so-called pioneer trees. They grow in soils that do not offer sufficient conditions for other vegetations. With her housedress and sturdy shoes, the woman also recalls a pioneer, reminiscent of the settlers who, starting in the late 18th century, moved westward to conquer that part of North America. Amy Cutler hails from Poughkeepsie. The town, situated 140 kilometers from New York City, was founded by a Dutchman in 1687. The name has Native American roots and, centuries later, tells the story of a past culture and its colonization.

It would be surprising if Cutler, who has a professed fascination for medieval Europe and Persian miniatures, was not interested in the mythical and brutal history of her native country. But if you ask about the concrete events in which her enigmatic compositions are rooted, the artist (who was born in 1974) quickly puts a stop to such ideas. “The stories are based on personal experiences mixed with a wide array of my changing interests. At times there are themes that runs through a body of work and in retrospect I can always find an obvious link to whatever was happening in my life at that point in time. I use a lot of metaphors which disguise the obvious.”

The only things that are obvious are the activities of the women, who are drawn with great attention to detail. They fell trees with their teeth, build a dam out of tree trunks, cut reeds with sickle shoes. Naturally, they can also weave – though in the drawing Weavers the threads, or the hair, in this case, grows through the window into the room rather than tidily remaining in the loom. They have mastered baking and other skills that have traditionally been the domain of women. But in the gouache Cake Toss (2004), they throw the cakes at a birch tree, which in turn supports a tree house turned on its head.

Such surprises are characteristic of Cutler’s work. Initially, they may recall illustrations from old children’s books: The women are wearing unfashionable dresses, devote themselves to traditional handiwork, and display an anachronistic stiffness. But then the absurd details come into view, and the scenes of still introspection disintegrate into incompatible moments – the longer you look at them, the more inexplicable they become. Men are completely absent from the works on paper. “I love the idea of a fictional utopia of women who are very strong,” Cutler noted in the catalogue to her exhibition at the art space Site in Santa Fe in 2011. The idea stems from her days at a girl’s school. While the girls were taught separately and thus had more room to develop, they subtly competed with one another. “I went to an all girls catholic school and had to wear a uniform for six years,” relates Amy Culter. “The only avenue of self expression was found in the shoes you wore and your hairstyle.”

This experience is in keeping with the artist’s ongoing focus on the smallest details, which are “extremely important” to her. If you use your imagination, the work Provisions (2008) seems to condense such daily experiences into a surreal situation. Eight girls with exaggeratedly long hair spend the night together in one bed under a large blanket. Reserves (2008) also shows sleeping figures, but in this work the hair is hanging from the ceiling in bundles and forms cocoons – one for each sleeper.
Showing a group in which the individuals seem isolated from another is one of the artist’s recurring motifs. This is so regardless of whether they gather together around a light source, as in the photographs of her sculptural doll arrangements, or whether they do monotonous work with a serious demeanor. “The expressions on the women’s faces are often a bit stern. This is probably a reflection of my own facial expression while making the work,” explains Amy Cutler, who uses the finest brushes to color her drawings, requiring her to sit still for hours on end. “I try to enter the mind of the figures to channel what kind of emotions will be expressed in their posture and gestures. They are usually engaged in activities that would require concentration and provide space for self reflection. I’m interested in the collective separation that keeps a room full of busy people divided. The fact that the body can be employed, but not necessarily the mind.”

Cutler works in a similar fashion when she reproduces dresses, cakes, and fish with incredible painterly accuracy. It is extremely detailed work which since the beginnings of emancipation has been considered as senseless, reproductive occupation. The artist by no means shares this criticism when she characterizes the proverbial craftswomen in her paintings.  “These women are hardworking and industrious. They are focused and have a lot on their minds.” This is not retrograde, but meant as a reference to the potential that history and tradition have for the present. Naturally, Amy Cutler does not use this in an unbroken way, but as source for her poetic montages. Stories are spun using set pieces, which associatively interlink history, literature, feminism, and personal experiences.

The artist studied at the Städel School in Frankfurt, a bastion of Conceptual art, in the middle of the nineties. The fact that she developed her figurative, fairytale-like narrative style precisely during this period is a contradiction only at first glance. Cutler went to Frankfurt with only a fragmentary knowledge of German, felt isolated in the city, understood very little – and discovered that this state can be extremely stimulating. To always be in limbo, with verbal gaps that can never be filled logically. This experience is reflected in her work and in her fascination for materials. “Women’s clothing is a fantastic vehicle for color,” she says. “Most of my color palette is found in the textiles. I use fabrics to create a subtext of meaning. With women’s fashion I am able go wild and push the limits without it being the focus of the narrative. Each time I draw or paint a new face I let the personality dictate the style of what they will be wearing.”
Nevertheless, Amy Cutler makes her own decisions. This is reflected in the way she tells her small, complex stories, and in the recurring elements she uses to meld them together. In the end, each subject repeatedly demonstrates one thing: You don’t have to paint abstractly to eschew clear interpretation. A plethora of figures, contrary actions, and inexplicable allusions leads to the same result. “The work has to be able to mutate and take on multiple meanings. The stories’ meanings continue to change as the years go by. Themes that I revisit tend to become a type of vocabulary. At the moment I am interested in Samurai warriors and traditional Burmese costumes. I have my reasons and while I'm making the work they are not always obvious to me but this is what keeps it interesting. There is a certain level of hunting and gathering that happens before I start new work. I always like to mix fact with fiction.”

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On View
“Saxony – Works from the Deutsche Bank Collection” at the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig / Pigments, Wax, Steel - Anish Kapoor at the MCA in Sydney / Originality and a Radical Desire to Experiment - Visions of Modernity at the Deutsche Guggenheim / New. New York - Art from Brooklyn at the Essl Museum
Record number of visitors to the final exhibition - End spurt to the opening of the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle / Imran Qureshi: Celebration in Lahore / "Formica Touched It Off" - On the Death of Richard Artschwager / Deutsche Bank Celebrates Collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Polish Contemporary Art at Museum Morsbroich / International Artists at the Villa Romana / Art on Wheels - The Vochol at the ArtSpace of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt / Second-hand images - Joachim Schmid at the Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea / Art and Diplomacy - Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards Artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection / In spring of 2013 the "Deutsche Bank KunstHalle" opens in Berlin with the "Artist of the Year" Imran Quereshi / Poetry and Politics - Yto Barrada at Fotomuseum Winterthur / Look at Me! Schirn Explores the Private Sphere
"A Success Story" - The Press on the Deutsche Guggenheim's Farewell Exhibition and on the New "Deutsche Bank KunstHalle"
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