Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark
Curated by Stephanie Cristello
Kunsthal Aarhus is pleased to present 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.
Text by curator Stephanie Cristello.
Alongside the exhibition at Kunsthal Aarhus, the first monograph of Theodora Allen will be published by Motto Books. Saturnine, written by exhibition curator Stephanie Cristello, will shine a light on Allen's work and exhibitions of the last eight years. Replete with full-color plates and details of her meticulous, luminous paintings, the catalog brings a magnifying glass to the artist’s symbolic lexicon as windows into timeless inner worlds. Cristello alternates between fictional texts and critical essays, to look at the way these emblems and allegories remain generative. Connecting specific moments from ancient Greek 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, and their powerful resonance in our contemporary moment.
Hardcover; 215 pages
Geneva: Motto Books, 2021
6 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches