‘In the waiting room,’ new Renaissance Society exhibition, suggests movement, anticipation through beguilingly complicated watercolors

Silke Otto-Knapp’s “Group (reaching),” on display in “In the waiting room” at the Renaissance Society. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

German-born, Los Angeles-based artist Silke Otto-Knapp has a particularly meticulous practice yielding large-scale paintings. In “In the waiting room,” she fills the Renaissance Society’s idiosyncratic gallery space with scenes of posed silhouettes akin to a multi-perspective stage, panels set up on freestanding wooden stands.

The exhibition has been in planning for two years and includes six pieces, all multi-panel watercolors on canvas commissioned specifically for the show at the Ren, 5811 S. Ellis Ave. Otto-Knapp made them from transposed drawings, filling out forms in black pigment and then spraying them with water, dissolving the color and applying it elsewhere. After several applications, a composition forms.

Otto-Knapp has worked with black for many years, from when her work focused on landscapes, including two works in the exhibition: “Forest” and “Screen (Trees and Moon).” Ren curator Solveig Øvstebø said the color choice allowed the artist to eliminate details from the landscapes, flattening out space so they became more like stage designs or sets.

“The notion of stage has been really important to Silke,” Øvstebø said. “The narrative has sort of been reduced. It’s not been taken away — it’s not complete abstraction in that way — but it’s really reduced so that there is a distance between the original narrative and what you see in the canvasses.”

Øvstebø said Otto-Knapp has increasingly worked with series instead of standalone paintings; indeed, two pieces from her series from which the exhibition takes its name are included at the Ren, with its cathedral-style vaulted ceilings and numerous windows.

“This is the exhibition where she’s done that the most, because not only is it, of course, the series and the sequences and the rhythm of the paintings, but it’s also the way that the show is laid out,” Øvstebø said. “She wanted all the paintings to be in the space.”

The light-colored wooden stands on which the paintings are displayed contrast with the works’ grayscale. Otto-Knapp arranged them so as to circulate viewers through the gallery, making them move in reality while the paintings suggest movement and preparation.

“It’s meant to a break in this rhythm, where you go and see the show, and it’s demanding us to move around in the space in a different way,” Øvstebø said.

The Ren is a difficult space to hang works on a wall, which is why it so often displays conceptual installations and specially commissioned works. But Øvstebø said both artists and curators are inspired by the demands of exhibiting at the Ren.

“When you start with exhibitions like we do, looking at space with the artist, thinking about a new project, even though we’ve had painting shows where the paintings are absolutely individual works and they’re presented — but since it’s oftentimes a new commission, it becomes this whole entity,” she explained.

“In the waiting room” is on through March 29. An opening reception and artist talk are scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 11, at 5 p.m., and an exhibition walk-through is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com