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Katharina Grosse: Chill Seeping at SCAD Museum of Art

Katharina Grosse, "Untitled," 2021, acrylic on canvas, 117 3/4 x 387 in. © 2022 Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of Gagosian. Photo by Jens Ziehe.

Katharina Grosse: Chill Seeping

Savannah College of Art and Design Museum

February 28 through July 11, 2022 


“Immersive” has acquired quite another meaning in the art world in recent months: giant blurry images of Arles cafes and slides of starry nights projected on empty warehouse walls. Artist Katharina Grosse goes with quite a different definition of “immersive.” Her vivid sculptures-slash-paintings share the same unreal, juiced color palette of the newest model iPhone: all electric blues and acid greens and traffic-light yellows. But the huge site-specific installations— entire houses, city blocks, a tunnel of canvas 180 feet long—take over their spaces, yank viewers into them, disrupting not decorating. Her work, she says, is “a cluster of time, an activity of space” created by color, sometimes raucous and transgressive.

The Savannah College of Art & Design Museum – an institution which tends to punch way above its weight — opened her exhibition “Chill Seeping” in March. Organized by adjunct curator Humberto Moro, it includes both a trio of large-scale installations and recent works on canvas, all as part of SCAD’s annual DeFine Art Festival. Grosse has come to Savannah to accept an award from the Museum in person, and she is a surprise. Short cropped blonde-gray hair, startling blue eyes and a sweeter disposition than you’d expect from a German conceptual artist and longtime professor.

Walking through her exhibition, Grosse almost immediately confesses that she is hiding something. Specifically, she has papered over several of the exits in the gallery, which have been covered in faux brick to match the real brick arches in the room. It’s a very long, narrow space, a train-length corridor really, and at first glance a poor choice for her expansive work. But there is a method to her madness and the installation was carefully modeled, she says. 

Installation views, "Katharine Grosse: Chill Seeping," SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, February 28– July 11, 2022. Artwork © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany 2022. Photos: Aman Shakya, courtesy Helsinki Art Museum and SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah.

“It is a great space, it’s not what you usually have. There are so many layers in that long thin slot — brick wall, glass window, shutters...it’s a machine of illustrating what a painting could be. I wondered how could I show all the aspects, how to generate a drift of the fabric through the corridor.”

So some exits were blocked to force the viewer to move through the space in specific, constrained, even claustrophobic, ways. Unlike the standard white-cube gallery, “it has a different vantage point, you can’t relate everything to you. You are not at the center. I wanted to enhance that feeling.”

The exhibitions yards and yards of soft, heavy painted fabric, unfurled in some spots, bunched up tightly in others, is hiding something too, she notes. The painting “has a lot of faults but you can’t see them because they re hidden, like you’d fold a sock into a drawer,” she says.

Grosse, born 1961 Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, turned 60 last year, and is represented both by Konig Gallery in Berlin, Germany and by Gagosian. Gagosian represents relatively few female artists, few older female artists, and she is the only one who uses giant industrial spray guns and hydraulic lifts to create high-speed wall-spanning monumental swaths of color.

Installation views, "Katharine Grosse: Chill Seeping," SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, February 28– July 11, 2022. Artwork © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany 2022. Photos: Aman Shakya, courtesy Helsinki Art Museum and SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah.

It was a practice particularly well-suited to the pandemic. While much of the art world turned virtual in 2020, Grosse’s career almost accelerated. She defied Covid with her 3-D art, much of it outdoor, that uses paint to embrace and wrap around buildings—all the time wearing a helmeted painting outfit that echoes an astronaut suit. 

The arc of Grosse’s career:  Well-regarded in her home country and throughout Europe from the 1980s on, Grosse broke big internationally from 1998-2001. In 1998, she was in “Every day,” at the 11th Biennale of Sydney, Sydney. In 1999, Marfa, Texas featured her Cheese Gone Bad, a now almost-iconic work, with its suggestion of a rapidly burning storefront. In the aughts, she had a slew of museum exhibitions worldwide. For 2016’s “Rockaway!” Grosse famously painted an abandoned beachside military post in Queens, NY, a raucous red and white at the personal request of MoMA PS1’s Klaus Biesenbach.

A Gagosian group show beckoned in London in 2015, a solo show in New York followed two years later. “He was the right choice because he had the ability to show hybrid art,” he had multiple spaces, says Grosse. ”It changed my collectors and changed my relationship to American collectors — it changed a lot. You work differently.” Her solo show took over the dealer’s 524 West 21st Street space. “I think I was the first woman to have that whole gallery,” Grosse says.

America also beckoned because a trio of female artists she much admires were based in the U.S. “Mary Weatherford, Jacqueline Humphries, Amy Sillman, were all here [in America] in New York or L.A.” (Grosse also singles out Sam Gilliam and conceptual land artist Robert Smithson as particular influences, along with Renaissance frescoes.)

Many artists of her vintage, particularly female artists, have been “rediscovered” of late, but Grosse has never had to be found. Even in the faddish art world, she really has never been out of fashion or invisible, or left behind. It’s something even she admits is rare. “It is interesting,” she notes. “I don’t think about it. I take it for granted. There is the painting. It comes from beyond, from somewhere larger.” WM



Whitehot writes about the best art in the world - founded by artist Noah Becker in 2005. 


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