Theodora Allen's first institutional solo exhibition on view at Kunsthal Aarhus
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Theodora Allen's first institutional solo exhibition on view at Kunsthal Aarhus
Theodora Allen, The Planet, No.3, 2020. Olie på lærred. 16 ¼ x 16 x 1 ¼ inches (41.3 x 40.6 x 3.2 centimeters). 16 ¾ x 16 ¾ x 2 inches framed (42.5 x 42.5 x 5.1 centimeters). © Theodora Allen, Courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo og Kasmin Gallery, New York.

AARHUS.- Kunsthal Aarhus is presenting Saturnine, the first institutional solo exhibition of Los Angeles-based contemporary artist Theodora Allen. Interweaving the artist’s emblematic use of symbols, the exhibition engages with a history of Saturn, the celestial body said to have been the cause of a melancholic disposition—from ancient myth and the Middle Ages through to the present. At times appearing as itself, a large ringed orb, and at others as affect, the figure of the planet joins Allen’s representations of recurrent motifs that are informed by cultural and emotional influence.

Alongside Saturn, depictions of markers such as serpents, wildfires, moths, hourglasses and hallucinogenic plants present a language that is seen rather than uttered. Within the emblematic tradition—a form positioned squarely between visual arts and literature, grappling equally with both image and text—Allen’s compositions exist as propositions of impossibilities. As concepts, they transport the viewer elsewhere: into different times, different narratives. Steeped in mythmaking and iconography, the paintings are resonant with the visionary work of poets and painters in early Symbolist graphic arts, as well as resurgences of this aesthetic in the zeitgeist of 1960s California, addressing cyclical, enduring themes of human versus nature that withstand in our contemporary moment.

The modulation of the artist’s ethereal images come into being through a process of removal and regeneration; paint lifted off a darkly covered surface to reveal the ground of white behind the pigment before introducing more sheer layers gradually polluted by the addition of colour, tone, and opacity, as well as the ground itself. This paradox—the creation of an image through a means of subtraction and alteration—is at the core of the aesthetic affect achieved across Allen’s careful output. A strategy of "dimming" the light source that mediates between presence and absence.

Like the rings of Saturn to its sphere, Allen’s work orbits around representations of melancholy in visual culture. As singular images, her paintings communicate the hyper-relevant present through outmoded representations of the past. Transforming legend into history, Allen’s use of emblems is aligned by a fin de siècle desire to "bring the past up to meet us"—a way to carry certain values into a future.

A catalogue by curator Stephanie Cristello as been published on the occasion of Theodora Allen's exhibition Saturnine at Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark.

Straddling criticism and prose, this first monograph of Los Angeles-based contemporary artist Theodora Allen interweaves the artist’s emblematic use of symbols with the cultural history of Saturn and Melancholy from ancient myth to the present.

Alternating between fictional texts and research-based essays, Theodora Allen: Saturnine puts forward different spheres of reading organized in four sections alongside full colour plates. Each chapter adopts the format of a reader comprised of two parts: first as narrative, second as criticism.

The works discussed illuminate how elements within Allen’s symbolic lexicon—which include serpents, moons, moths, hourglasses, wildfire, hallucinogenic plants, and windows into other realms—have remained generative. Weaving histories that span centuries, Saturnine delves into the iconographic representations of melancholy since the origin of the four humours.

Connecting specific moments within ancient Greek history and mythology, medieval psychology, Fin de Siècle Europe, and the Zeitgeist of 1960s California, Saturnine offers meditations on the kaleidoscope of references that find their footing in Allen’s paintings.

The catalogue is published by Motto Books in collaboration with the galleries Blum and Poe and Kasmin.

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