Katharina Grosse on Making Non-Confrontational Painting In Venice and Moscow
It’s been a busy year for Katharina Grosse. She’s painted the Acela’s path between New York and Philadelphia, inaugurated the former cathedral in which Berlin’s König Galerie now sits, and created a major installation at the Kunsthaus Graz. But those aren’t even the three largest efforts of the last 12 months. Starting with “Inside the Speaker” at Düsseldorf’s Museum Kunstpalast and followed by her contribution to “All the World’s Futures” at the Venice Biennale and yes no why later (2015) at Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, the painter has unveiled a new chapter in the installation-side of her interdisciplinary practice. The last of that trio will be the the final show to take place in the Shigeru Ban-designed Garage Pavilion and runs alongside the museum’s inaugural exhibitions in its OMA-designed new home, through August 9th. Artsy took a walk through the show with Grosse to find out more.
Artsy: What spurred your move away from the large styrofoam works to these first fabric sculptures?
KG: I became very interested in the idea of folding space. The fabric is much bigger than the space in which it’s installed. I was interested in taking this vast surface and shrinking it by folding or, actually, hiding the entirety of what’s there. It started with a reproduction of my first spray painting. I had it printed on a large piece of silk, something like 4-by-12 meters and hung it away from the walls, which made the surface uneven with all these little folds in the fabric and crumples on the floor. I saw it and thought I had to use these folds somehow, which led to my exhibition in Graz where it was actually foam that was folded throughout the space.
Artsy: Did you conceive of all three of these installations in relation to one another?
KG: They developed alongside one another but I also started to be able to draw experiences from Düsseldorf into Venice and from Venice into Moscow, even though the pieces themselves were already in the process of being made. I changed my model-building process. Normally, I work with a 1:50 or 1:20 scale model but now I also built a 1:10 model for each of them so I could see in far more detail what the fabric would do in the space on a conceptual level rather than just a technical level. I started on the Düsseldorf installation two years ago, before I even knew I would do Venice. The special thing there is that I have two really big spaces, 800 square meters each. In one I decided to show eight large canvases and in the other I decided to do one installation with the fabric, the rubble, and so on. In Venice, since the Arsenale is a listed building, I couldn’t spray directly on it, so I decided to let the columns poke through, to perforate the painting and be present in the work.
Artsy: Were these the first shows where you started to bring in organic elements like trees into the installations?
KG: I started using the trees for a very small show at the birthplace of Kurt Tucholsky, a German poet, which is very close to my studio. They asked me to do something there and at the same time a tree got cut down in front of my house. An uprooted tree is such an iconic, emotional image that everyone has a relationship with. Whether you want it to or not, seeing these roots touches you in a very profound way. And it’s also very ambiguous because it’s painted: the roots could be a paintbrush or it could be resonating with painted sculptures from medieval times. Painting it, changing its appearance, is so against postwar sculpture where real material is supposed to speak about its own story, the industrial process of its production, and maybe its resonance with political circumstances. But I’m not a sculptor. I’m a painter who wants to work with ambiguity and the idea that things can change based on whatever viewpoint you might choose.
Artsy: At that very core level of your practice—and considering the show at König Galerie right now in conversation with these installations—do you differentiate between something like this and a canvas on a stretcher on a wall?
KG: I do think it’s very different, but I don’t think I have to not do one because I do the other; they’re not mutually exclusive. It’s a little bit like if you swim in the pool and then the sea, both times you’re swimming. My main question is one of wondering and understanding what a painting could look like today. It can be a compressed space like in a traditional canvas but it can also be a painted space, where the painting is expanded, taken apart. That is a totally different way of looking at a painting, like a slow-motion visual experience; you are able to pass through the work in a way when you stand in it like this. These are just very different components of the same field, which in my case is pre-lingual. There is no question of language, or photography, or any representational image as such. It doesn’t even come from abstraction because it’s not abstracted from something. It’s coming at the question from the completely opposite direction.
Artsy: With yes no why later (2015), it seems like the composition is even looser than it has been in the past.
KG: Yeah, it’s quite free and wild this time. That was exactly how I felt working here. We had a discussion about what I would do the first time I came here and met the curator, Snejana Krasteva. But then I was really just painting for five or six days without ever really having a critical voice behind my back. It’s the first one where you can go underneath the fabric and on top of it, so you can see two different versions of the same work. And it has all sorts of different stages of experience at different points throughout it: maybe it’s a bleached out t-shirt at one point or the crumpled sheets in your bed or the drapery for an elegant dress, even.
Artsy: Going back to this idea of creating a painting that you can pass through, it connects directly to the participatory effort Garage is undertaking in a way that some types of painting might not.
I think what I’m looking for is to make an experience that transcends my being. That can happen in front of a very small flower, or in front of a very small painting, or it can happen here. Painting has always stood out as a confrontational medium: “There is the painting, and here you are.” I don’t question that at all anymore. Here, there is the painted fabric but also the people walking inside of it. They are in your field of vision as well and you are in theirs. So it creates a constant exchange between the image, the surface, and the people. It’s not even participatory maybe, but instead totally transparent and interlocking.
yes no why later is on view at Garage Museum, Moscow, Jun. 1-Aug. 8, 2015.