Katharina Grosse: shadowbox at the Temporäre Kunsthalle
April 10 through June 14, 2009
Katharina Grosse’s current exhibition, Shadowbox, at the Temporäre Kunsthalle opened amid Berlin’s first days of Spring. One could not help but note the timeliness. Grosse’s architectural-scale shaped paintings burst with the same colorful exuberance one could sense in the air. Grosse’s characteristic palette, ranging from pastel to neon, created the perfect setting for Berliners making use of the opening night as the first testing ground for their Spring “look.”
Four convex elliptically shaped paintings fill the exhibition space in an installation conceived specifically for the Temporäre Kunsthalle. The program of this Kunsthalle is to exhibit Berlin based artists of international acclaim, highlighting the importance of Berlin as a city of cultural production. The paintings lean against the walls, providing a space to walk behind and examine the molded foam structure. Suddenly a face might peep through a circular cut-out from behind a painting, meeting the gaze of someone looking at the front of the painting. A playful interactivity is invited to occur between viewers and the sculptural paintings, as well as amongst viewers themselves. This interactivity, combined with the scale of the paintings, initiates what the press release describes as an “aesthetic event.”
The cutouts and perforations in the surface provide the perfect opportunity for creating the shadows the title of the installation seems to refer to; but this opportunity is lost due to the even fluorescent lighting throughout the gallery. The lighting in the Temporäre Kunsthalle does not seem to offer the option for spot lighting or anything other than the glow of fluorescents overhead. This style of lighting is certainly the trend in Berlin’s contemporary art galleries, but perhaps not the most appropriate choice for a site-specific work that seems to want shadows.
The paintings themselves are ethereal, made from spray paint and layered pigment. Despite their massive size, they appear to hover weightlessly like clouds trapped indoors. This effect is oddly fitting to the blue and white cloud motif on the exterior of the building, presumably intended to highlight the transient nature of the Kunsthalle. The abstract imagery invites contemplation on cartography, Impressionism, and pixilation – to name a few. In places the paintings retain their white primed surface, creating hard-edged geometric shapes within the atmospheric pastel haze. Grosse is masterful in her painterly effects, and the paintings are beautiful.
The format of the paintings, in the context of Grosse’s previous installation work, is restrained. Grosse’s 2005 installation at the Palais de Tokyo was a borderless and aggressive exercise in painting that makes her current exhibition look conservative. In the Palais de Tokyo, brightly colored pigment abandoned the canvas in order to dust the surface of dirt mounds covering the floor. A landscape had been created from pigment in three dimensions, leaving the two-dimensional pectoral plane behind. The four paintings in Shadowbox do not coalesce into a full environment, but rather keep to painting’s traditional on-the-wall-format. The shaped forms of the paintings do not disguise their traditional format, nor does the tentatively sculptural negative space behind the paintings. In Gross’s previous work, the explosion of form and seemed to be the main content of her installations. The press release for Shadowbox describes her work as “characterized by an anarchic impulse.” With form re-stabilized in her current installation, Grosse does seem to partake in shadowboxing. Once the opponent in the ring was containment, and “containment“ got blasted! Now only a shadow of that rebelliousness remains. A shadow boxer is someone fighting an invisible opponent, and this current installation indeed lacks an opponent.
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MIRA O'BRIEN is an artist currently living in Berlin. She received her MFA from Yale University. Past research includes traveling across the desert in Uzbekistan to witness the disappearance of the Aral Sea. email@example.com