Art Review

Susanne Kuhn

Using pictures to tell stories was definitely a no-no in classic modern art and for the first three quarters of the twentieth century. Manipulating form was the thing for painters to do instead. But in the 1980s and '90s, narrative painting made a huge comeback in contemporary art circles, and one of the vanguards of this movement was the New Leipzig School from Germany. The artist featured in Susanne Kühn, at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver (1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org), is too young to be part of that movement, but her work is definitely the heir to it.

Given this aesthetic inheritance, it's no surprise to find that Kühn was born and raised in Leipzig when it was still in East Germany. That means that socialist realism, which was all about conveying messages, is among the sources for her inspiration. Kühn lived in New York for several years studying at the School of Visual Arts at Hunter College before moving back to Germany. She now lives in Freiburg.

MCA director and chief curator Cydney Payton organized the show, which is installed in the Large Works Gallery on level two. The Kunstverien Freiburg, a hometown venue for Kühn, collaborated with the MCA to present this exhibit.

Kühn's approach is fairly complex. There's a decidedly photographic quality to the renderings of the figures and their surroundings, but the colors are strangely toned up, which denies any sense of photographic realism in them. She also uses subtly different points of view, which also prevents her from strictly representing external reality. These disconnections meld as much as they collide with one another. In every painting, there's a figure that's been partly obscured by the artificial-looking scenery, but none is more effectively hidden than the man in "Still Life With Books" (pictured).

A catalogue with an essay by the MCA's own Payton is available in the gift shop. The show runs through September 21.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia