Kunstverein in Hamburg, 27.01.–14.04.24

Silke Otto-Knapp: Bühnenbilder

Group (Pyramid), 2020, Aquarell auf Leinwand, 150 × 170 cm, Sammlung W15

From the mid-1990s, Silke Otto-Knapp (1970 – 2022) developed a unique approach that both responds to and reflects on formal and thematic questions regarding the representation and embodiment of the performing arts within the medium of painting. Otto-Knapp’s final work cycle Versammlung (2022), which was conceived for the Kunstverein in Hamburg during the artist’s life, is central to Bühnenbilder. Here, the Lower Saxony-born artist delves into histories of theatre, dance and cinema, with a focus on forms of ritualised gathering on stage, while questioning the relationship between rehearsal and artistic practice, as well as performing and exhibiting. 

Versammlung will be shown in dialogue with Otto-Knapp’s work from the last decade, where Bühnenbilder pursues the formal developments from the individual work to the multi-panelled painting, to painting-as-architecture within an expansive wall-less choreography developed with Otto-Knapp for the Kunstverein. Painted with watercolour pigments in high contrast greyscale Otto-Knapp’s depictions of theatre, dance, film and opera, from the single figure to the full proscenium, are present.

The body of work in Bühnenbilder negotiates the relationship between figure and ground, between negative and positive space. Depth of space within the painting of Otto-Knapp becomes legible through choreographed bodies. It is precisely these bodies that are at the centre of a moment of tension: between the impossibility of representing movement in the medium of painting and the potentiality of the body in motion inherent in her work. 

The choreographies, stages and costumes that Otto-Knapp draws upon such as those of Anna Halprin, Natalia Goncharova, Judson Dance Theatre or Michael Clark generate an extended and differentiated art history. Bühnenbilder identifies and gives body to performance art and avant-garde theatre as important currents and constitutive movements in contemporary art, thereby performing art history anew. The dance deck by ANNA HALPRIN figures as the first work in the gallery of the exhibition. The dance stage was built in 1954 in Kentfield, Northern California, by set designer Arch Lauterer and Anna Halprin’s husband Lawrence Halprin. It is not only surrounded by forest, but trees also grow through the stage boards, becoming integral to each performance. Breaking with conventions and the decentralized orientation of the stage creates a new tension between the audience, dancers, the overgrown architecture, and the space as a pedagogical environment. The landscape itself becomes part of the performance, leading to a multiple dissolution of the concept of stage. The lack of a clear orientation of the stage gives rise to what Halprin herself calls “active witnessing”: traditional oppositions dissolve, and the audience becomes part of the performance. These dissolutions and the emergence of new stages are central themes in Otto-Knapp’s œuvre.


Kunstverein in Hamburg

Kunstverein in Hamburg. Photo: Fred Dott
Opening Hours:
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