Whitehot Magazine

Rockaway! Katharina Grosse’s Painted House


“Nature is a haunted house—but Art—a house that tries to be haunted.” –Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems

A site-specific outdoor installation by German artist Katharina Grosse at Gateway National Recreation Area at Fort Tilden in Breezy Point, New York, “Rockaway!” transforms one of the National Park Service’s abandoned aquatic’s buildings into a brilliant abstract painting on the Rockaway Beach.

Rendered structurally unsound by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the concrete block building, along with others around it, is scheduled to be demolished later this year.  Spray-painting the interior and exterior of the beach structure over the course of nine days, Grosse created a bright red expressionistic painting on a three-dimensional form that’s in striking harmony with the environment of shrub-covered sandy dunes and blue water and serene skies that surround it. 

“I went to the Prospect New Orleans biennial after Hurricane Katrina and the piece that impressed me most was the beauty of Katharina Grosse’s project in the ninth ward, where she had painted a house and fence and lawn in a golden yellow hue,” MoMA director Klaus Beisenbach shared with Whitehot.  “It was a very fragile, very beautiful experience that she had created and I carried that with me. I had never lived in an area with a hurricane and when Sandy happened all of a sudden I was in the heart of it. After all of our on-going activities with the Rockaways we were told that the aquatics buildings in Fort Tilden would be torn down. That was the moment that I reached out to Katharina and she did this work.” 

An abstract painter who has been inspired by the American abstract expressionists that famously created work on the eastern end of Long Island, Grosse applied the paint to her Rockaway domain layer by layer—first spraying white, then purple, then red and then more white and red again—to let it develop, and come to life, over time.

“She has applied a painting onto a surface that was a building, but it’s not a painted building, it is a painting on a building. There is a huge difference,” Beisenbach caringly emphasized.  

The outcome is truly a gesamkunstwerk—a total work of art.

The house is forever haunted—no matter how short its life might yet be—as it will live on now in pictures. With the puzzling remains of the past still visible in the graffiti that continues to cling to its sides and the years of physical activity that has been absorbed by its stretching sandy surface, the house shouts out in a vexing voice that gets comforted in the mesmerizing veil that Grosse has cast over it. A fiery-red beacon on the beach, this once-dilapidated structure is now a shelter for the mind and eye of the viewer—a place of refuge from the blistering sun and drubbing rain, but more importantly a place to dream.

Like diving into a massive painting and peering out from the windows of a floating realm, Grosse’s painted house provides an abstract perch from which one can ponder the bigger picture.

Scroll through the images below to experience the enchanting impact of this wonderful work of art. WM

Rockaway! at Fort Tilden is on view through November 30, 2016. Photography © Paul Laster



Paul Laster

Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.



view all articles from this author