Katharina Grosse. It Wasn’t Us
June 14, 2020 – January 10, 2021
A special exhibition of the Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Katharina Grosse’s paintings can appear anywhere: on a rubber boot, on an egg, on the crumpled folds of a cloth, along a railway line, on the beach, in snow, on a sculptural form, or across a façade and on the roof. Her large-scale works are multi-dimensional pictorial worlds in which splendid colours sweep across walls, ceilings, objects, and even entire buildings and landscapes. Central to Grosse’s artistic practice is this notion that painting takes place not just on canvas, but that it can also permeate every facet of our surroundings. For the exhibition “Katharina Grosse. It Wasn’t Us“, the artist has transformed the Historic Hall of Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, as well as the outdoor space behind the building, into an expansive painting which radically destabilises the existing order of the museum architecture.
The artist’s latest in situ painting disregards the boundaries of the museum space in a grand and colourful gesture: “I painted my way out of the building”, said Grosse in relation to her work. Over the course of several weeks a vast new painting has emerged that stretches across the Historic Hall and into public space, over the extensive grounds behind the museum and finally landing on the façade of the so-called Rieckhallen which were inaugurated as a part of the museum complex in 2004. Grosse’s kaleidoscopic painting brings together colours and forms, natural and man-made surroundings and its visitors as participants in an allencompassing, pulsating interaction of hues. As the boundaries between objects and constructed space, and between horizontal and vertical orientations begin to melt away, new spaces emerge that are both artificial and ripe with associations, yet at the same time completely real and wholly abstract, forcing us to renegotiate our habitual ways of seeing, of thinking about, and of perceiving the world around us.
In the interior space, the painting’s support consists of the floor of the hall and a group of towering forms crafted from polystyrene. Grosse transposed these sculptural elements into their final size via a multi-stage production process involving incremental changes of scale. The objects were created using digital cutting technologies, with the shape of each element refined by hand before being processed into data via a 3D scanning system in order to mill the successive larger object. In a final step, the fullscale constituent parts of the sculptures were moved into the hall of the museum and assembled by a team of workers. Over several days the artist used a hot wire to create indentations and fine furrows in the fragile objects before covering them and the floor of the building with dynamic swathes of colour which were applied layer by layer with a spray gun. This painting process, in which the colours react differently depending on the surfaces they encounter and how densely they are sprayed, was continued outside.
While the section of the painting located indoors is influenced by the architectural elements of the space and the ever-changing light conditions throughout the day and during the different seasons, the outdoor sections interact with the trees and greenery, the weather conditions and the day-to-day life of the square. Elements such as street lamps, bollards and stone kerbs also pierce the image. The setting is framed by the neighbouring buildings of the so-called Europacity, the extension and development of which is soon to replace the Rieckhallen which are currently used by the museum. This unique architectural landmark in Berlin, which was repurposed from its original use as a haulage depot into a museum space, has been the venue for numerous contemporary art exhibitions and projects since its inauguration in 2004. On this occasion the corrugated metal panels of the façade have become the support for an expansive painting that elevates the site (and the situation in which it finds itself) into a new realm of imagination and possibility.
The choice of the location, as well as the many different factors and conditions that define it, have influenced the development of the painting, just as the permanently shifting lines of sight and unexpected encounters of the viewer affect the way the work is seen. In this sense, the work’s title, “It Wasn’t Us,” can be understood as a reference to the inherent complexity and unpredictability of a given situation, whether it be the conditions under which an artist creates her work, or the conditions under which it is later viewed. The results of our actions are always influenced by unexpected moments and experiences as well as blind spots that later serve to define a situation. Not every consequence of each action or every aspect of the resultant situation can be predicted in advance, yet it is our task to assume responsibility for the complete situation.
With regard to the current coronavirus crisis, which gripped the entire world during preparations for the exhibition, the artist had the following to say: “Of course, I did not think about a pandemic as I was considering the exhibition’s title. But now more than ever we recognise that we cannot shy away from responsibility. For every action there is a reaction, and everything is mutually dependent. An entire system can slip out of control at the slightest change. This applies to an image, and it also applies to the real world.”
The exhibition “Katharina Grosse. It Wasn’t Us” was prepared over the course of two years and showcases an in situ-painting that stretches seamlessly across indoor and outdoor space, the largest such work to date by the artist in Europe. Previous site-related paintings, for which large-scale images emerged in public space, include “psychylustro“, created as part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Programme (2014); “Rockaway“, produced for MoMA PS1-Programm “Rockaway!” in Fort Tilden, New York (2016); and “Asphalt Air and Hair” at the ARoS Triennale, Aarhus (2017).
Curated by Udo Kittelmann and Gabriele Knapstein.
On the occasion of the exhibition an extensive bilingual (English-German) catalogue will be published by Hatje Cantz Verlag. The publication documents the creation of the painting “It Wasn’t Us” and offers new perspectives on the practice of Katharina Grosse. Alongside an introduction by Udo Kittelmann and Gabriele Knapstein, the catalogue contains essays by the social anthropologist Julia Eckert, theatre studies scholar Doris Kolesch, sociologist Martina Löw, curator Daniel Milnes und literary scholar Heather I. Sullivan. In collaboration with author Annika Reich, Katharina Grosse has also prepared a text for the catalogue titled “Painting is an Imposition“. The catalogue, which comprises 208 pages and many illustrations, will be published in August 2020. (Price: 44 EUR)
The exhibition is made possible by Freunde der Nationalgalerie and Volkswagen.