Katharina Grosse (b. 1961) is fascinated by how colour can affect its surroundings. In her large-scale in-situ paintings she abandons the confines of the traditional rectangular canvas and uses floors, walls, other structures and natural materials, such as soil, as her support. For Grosse, a painting “can land anywhere: on an egg, in the crook of the arm, along a train platform, in snow and ice, or on the beach.” Her tools are equally diverse: She paints with an industrial spray gun, but has also applied paint with her own hands, as well as rollers and brushes. The result of the painting process is more like a sculpture that emerges from a geographical location rather than a conventional painting.
Grosse has said that painting is linked to her way of examining the world. Contemplating the world means simultaneously doing something with it. As a child, she imagined an invisible brush that she would use to paint over the shadows cast through her room and by its objects. For her, painting is an act that emerges from a relationship with a particular place and embraces the incidents that occur while she paints.
Katharina Grosse’s multi-layered, haptic pictures are radical and provocative, making us realise that it is always possible to also view reality differently. Surrounding the viewers her works never leave them unmoved.
Her recent institutional exhibitions and in situ paintings include The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then It Stopped at Carriageworks, Sydney (2018); Wunderbild at National Gallery in Prague (2018/2019); Mumbling Mud at chi K11 art museum in Shanghai (2018/2019) as well as at chi K11 art space in Guangzhou (2019), a two-person show Mural: Jackson Pollock / Katharina Grosse at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2019/2020), and It Wasn’t Us at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin (ongoing).
Katharina Grosse’s contribution to the biennial is a painting sweeping across the island’s old schoolhouse and the surrounding unkempt vegetation. The children who once lived on the military island attended the school from the 1950s to the 1980s. The building is contaminated and unfit for human habitation due to toxic actinomyces in the interior.
While the schoolhouse will be demolished after the exhibition, the remaining traces of the painting will slowly vanish when the vegetation begins its new seasonal cycle. Grosse’s brief but visually striking intervention in the landscape is a reminder of the passage of time, engaging in a dialogue at the intersection of cultural memory and natural processes.
Photo: Markus Jans