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Original title: Cubiertos
Mixed media on canvas
Dimensions: 160 x 160 cm
By the mid-1980s, Dokoupil had moved quite far away from the Neue Wilde movement, with which he had been associated for some years. In his opinion, the pressure some critics put on artists linked to the movement to keep covering the same ground had become restrictive. He always insisted that his goal was to use expressionist language with a conceptual intent, unlike other members of the German neo-Expressionist movement. Moreover, his use of painting went beyond the strict boundaries set by the Neue Wilde. He had always understood the medium as a field for experimentation, where one could play with concepts and meanings through a rich, complex spectrum of codes. Indeed, it is difficult to establish links between the wide ranges of images he deploys. The Annunciation is part of a group of pictures Dokoupil painted in 1986 under the generic title of ‘Neue New Yorker Serie’. On these large canvases he reproduces Judaeo-Christian and pagan iconography, calling into question the validity of some myths considered unquestionable by tradition. Numbers and their symbolism are also a constant presence. The Annunciation is a large painting that derives its expressive force from the artist’s use of black and white and the readily recognisable forms he employs. Against a dark background, we can see the unmistakable shape of an egg; inside it, a large number two with fragile angel’s wings attached at the back. The work plays sarcastically with certain themes that are common in the history of art. In traditional Annunciations an angel appears before the Virgin to tell her that the son of God will spring from her womb. Dokoupil fuses the two characters into a single number two. He turns the digit into a winged angel, kneeling gracefully. The number also recalls the curves of a pregnant woman. The egg, perhaps a reference to the Holy Spirit, who also usually appears in an Annunciation scene, alludes to birth and life. Read more broadly, The Annunciation is an ironic statement about the supposedly transcendental nature of many frivolous, insubstantial religious symbols. Cubiertos (1986) also alludes to various concepts that form part of the viewer’s visual culture, though the interpretation is particularly ambiguous. The square canvas shows four pieces of cutlery inside which we glimpse fragments of maps. On the lower part of the canvas we see a pair of bright red lips, probably a woman’s. In the background there are concentric circles in intense, contrasting colours. It is difficult to offer a single reading of this work. The piece clearly relates to popular visual culture, evoking the bold colours of advertising and, in a way, the meaninglessness of many contemporary creations. Although we are looking at recognisable forms—knives, forks, spoons, lips—interpretations can go much further: in this painting one can identify many of the broad spectrum of recurrent themes found in Dokoupil’s work, which include an endless questioning of the validity of symbols and a concern with the efficacy of painting as a means of conveying ideas. The result is a work that comes close to provocation, and which the artist has cleverly turned into an ingenious visual exercise.
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