The artist Clay Ketter is one of Swedens greatest US imports. He was born in 1961 in Connecticut and studied in New York, but has been living on the plains of Scania in southern Sweden for more than 20 years now. It was in Sweden he had his breakthrough in the mid-90s, with Wall Paintings, a sort of ready-made created with gypsum wallboards, with tape and spackle. Before then, he had worked as a carpenter and craftsman. His international career took off and he is currently featured with a solo exhibition at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York.
The major exhibition at Moderna Museet
is showing works from Clay Ketters entire oeuvre paintings, assemblages and sculptures with an emphasis on new works: the dolls house works and the photo series Gulf Coast Slabs.
The curator of the exhibition, Magnus af Petersens, writes in the catalogue: Since his breakthrough, Clay Ketters works have oscillated between utopian artistic vision and the hands-on reality of the building site. In his later work, however, the socio-political and existential dimension has become more prominent.
The Gulf Coast Slabs were inspired by a picture Ketter saw in Time Magazine of the devastation after Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi; debris and fragments of buildings. The building foundations reminded him of his Trace Paintings, a series of works resembling wall sections in an apartment being renovated. Clay Ketter pursued his idea and travelled to the site together with the photographer Nils Bergendal. The house foundations are photographed from 20-40 meters directly above, to achieve a flat impression and enhance their character of abstract painting. In their matter-of-fact way, the images bear witness to our vulnerability and the fragility of the order we strive to achieve in our lives.
Technically and thematically, these works are related to the assemblages of old and deconstructed dolls houses that also form a central part of this exhibition. For instance, in Anywhereville, produced for Moderna Museet, we see a regular and apparently harmonious suburban street, a sort of ideal world. But the folded-out house sections in four of the fourteen homes on the tidy street, appear to have been torched.
A recurring theme in Ketters oeuvre is homes, houses, buildings and demolition. Building standards, drawings, scales, foundations, models. Gated communities. A closed-in quality is also found in Tomb (2009), which was built for this exhibition. It consists of a small wooden cottage, 3 X 6 metres, like a cross between Thoreaus cabin in Walden and Elvis Presleys childhood home. The absence of windows and doors explains the title.
Clay Ketters work is often described in terms of painting and art history. Moderna Museet is presenting an exhibition, and a body of work, that comprises a multitude of intra-artistic statements and questions: the Duchampean gesture of the wall paintings, the serial and the relationship to minimalism, the veritably stage-like states of before and after. Before painting, as in Wall Paintings, made from spackled but un-painted gypsym boards. Impressions after sockets and other building materials, as in Trace Paintings. But also before and after a looming, or actual, disaster.
The exhibition reveals an artist who is affected by human fate and creates his works using the natural debris of the hurricane that devastated the gulf coast, or portrays a claustrophobic suburban nightmare with dolls houses. On one level, Ketters work is always about how we live, construct and reconstruct our lives. Magnus af Petersens ends his essay with these words: Human beings have always been essential to Clay Ketters art, even though they are never depicted.