Katharina Grosse is internationally celebrated for her large-scale, on-site works that she paints across built and natural environments. To date, less focus has been placed on her studio-based paintings. This exhibition explores that part of Grosse’s oeuvre, from her earliest paintings in the 1990s to her most recent. It highlights these important canvases and the role they have played throughout the artist’s career in her experiments with color and paint—their physical and optical properties, aesthetic potentials, qualities of independence, and ability to create motion.
Large and powerful to behold, Grosse’s paintings create heightened sensorial perceptions through their emphatic material presence. They disrupt the conventional relations of background and foreground, surface and subsurface, canvas and border to open up new imaginary worlds within and beyond the work of art. Blotches, streaks, swaths, and mists of color; complex layers of paint; sweeping expansive movements; and fluid, abstract forms convey a multiplicity that is simultaneous, mobilizing perceptions that are both intuitive and subliminal. The act of painting, conceived by Grosse as a prototype of human activity, and the ways she challenges subjectivity and selfhood—long intrinsically associated with the medium of painting—may be understood as a means for reckoning with the world beyond the canvas.
The structure of the exhibition is modeled after Grosse’s organized yet open-ended painterly method. While the artworks are drawn from all three decades of her career, they are presented in relation to one another rather than chronologically, offering a close look at her fluid and evolving painting practice as a whole. As conceived by the exhibition curator Sabine Eckmann, PhD, William T. Kemper Director and Chief Curator at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, it is divided into two interrelated sections: “Returns/Revisions/Inventions” and “Fissures/Ruptures.”
“Returns/Revisions/Inventions,” comprising a broad range of paintings executed since the early 1990s, highlights Grosse’s cyclical approach in which colors, paint, and shapes appear in flux as they emerge, then return on different canvases, only to transform yet again as new images. Through this process-based method Grosse entangles past, present, and future so that distinct notions of narrated, lived, and envisioned time are inseparable in an instantaneous perceptual experience.
“Fissures/Ruptures” continues this exploration by concentrating on the various ways Grosse ruptures the medium of painting (or what is left of it) to question its autonomy, especially the long-standing connection between painter and painted mark, to ultimately make space for the everyday. This involves the use of stencils, which create voids on the canvas that inhabit a terrain of their own; the inclusion of elemental materials such as earth and tree branches; a collage-like approach through which the artist creates paintings within paintings; and the use of slashed canvases—all of which emphasize fragmentation and disorientation rather than unifying and contained structures.
With 37 paintings selected in collaboration with the artist, this is the first exhibition in the United States to explore the full range of Grosse’s studio paintings. It is her second collaboration with the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. In 2016 the Museum commissioned a wall-sized, on-site painting by Grosse for the athletic complex at Washington University as part of its Art on Campus program. After its showing in St. Louis the exhibition will travel to the Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland, and Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany. It is accompanied by an international, bilingual scholarly publication featuring color reproductions of more than 150 paintings, serving as the first reference book on the artist’s career-long practice of studio painting.