No Boundary Between Reality and Imagination - Katharina Grosse at the Gagosian

Katharina Grosse is perhaps the most honest artist working today. I say that because, when asked by an Art21 documentary film crew why she does the kind of work that she does, Grosse answered, “I totally enjoy to look at things, and I want something cool to look at, so I make this for myself. I amuse myself. I entertain myself.” Such simplicity; such directness—this is rare in contemporary art. By admitting that at the heart of her practice she is really just trying to do something for herself, to amuse and entertain herself, to give herself something cool to look at, she is also freeing us as viewers to relax around her work. We are not required to find meaning in it, or even to understand it on any level other than the visual. That is such a generous gift. But it is also a deceptive gift, because really the works Grosse makes are anything but simplistic. The processes and methods with which she brings them into existence are complex, and the final products themselves are multifaceted and layered, both in their physical presence and in their contemplative aspects. Grosse realizes that is the case, of course. That quote from above actually continues, as Grosse says that her process is also “about tricks that I play to myself or to others. I am the trickster, I guess.” Her current exhibition, Prototypes of the Imagination, which is on view through 27 July at Gagosian Britannia Street, London, is an elegant reminder of these dual aspects of what Grosse does. With a relatively small number of works, it is quite simple and straightforward. Since most of the works are two-dimensional paintings hanging on the walls, it is also quite restrained compared to most of her other recents exhibitions. Undeniably, the work is presented in a way that is cool to look at. It is amusing, entertaining, and beautiful. Yet in subtle ways this laid back installation is also an invitation into a much deeper and more profound world. It is a trick, of sorts. The work lulls us into thinking it is exactly what it looks like, but then it pulls us into a world of magic where, as Grosse says, “There is no boundary between reality and the imagination.”

No Boundary Between Reality and Imagination - Katharina Grosse at the Gagosian

Between Thinking and Acting

Most viewers know Grosse not so much from her paintings, but from her large-scale, sculptural installations. Designed to interact with the specific environments in which they are shown, her installations are feasts for the eyes. They often look like grandiose physical manifestation of painterly gestures, as if abstract, gestural forms and brush marks have burst off the surface of a painting, becoming biomorphic manifestations of living color in space. Other times, Grosse paints on real objects from nature or from the architectural world, like trees or buildings, transforming these objects with her paint like a fiction writer creates an imaginary world out of elements that are fully real.

 

Katharina Grosse untitled works on view in Berlin London and New York galleryKatharina Grosse: Prototypes of Imagination, installation view at Gagosian Britannia Street, London. Artworks © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Lucy Dawkins

 

The unclassifiable aspects of her installations cause some people to have trouble describing Grosse. Is she a painter, a sculptor, an installation artist or a public artist? As for how she sees this question, she says, “Am I a painter, am I a sculptor? I don’t know. I am talking to the world while painting on it, or with it, or in it. There is a collision of things with the painted image. Something comes about by this collision that can’t be taken apart anymore.” That is all that really matters about her work. It is a collision of elements in space, as nature, architecture, process, forms and color combine into something beautiful and new, and more spectacular than the individual parts.

 

Untitled works by Katharina Grosse from Germany gallery viewKatharina Grosse: Prototypes of Imagination, installation view at Gagosian Britannia Street, London. Artworks © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Lucy Dawkins

 

Unseen Dimensions

In Prototypes of Imagination at Gagosian, it is as though Grosse has adopted the lessons she has learned from her monumental installations for use on two-dimensional surfaces. But the paintings are anything but flat. Grosse has transformed their surfaces into illusionistic spaces where worlds seem to be playing a game of hide and seek from the viewer. Grosse says the pictures “compress the characteristics of reality.” That is an apt description, as they seem to contain infinite dimensions squashed into something our eyes and minds can barely contain. But the highlight of the exhibition is a massive (212 5/8 × 822 13/16 × 104 5/16 inches) untitled painting that hangs from the ceiling. It is hung far enough from the wall that viewers can walk behind it, giving us the chance to consider its two-dimensional nature from both sides. This painting declares the hidden world that also exists on the other paintings that are hanging on the walls. And yet it also drapes onto the floor so that part of it still remains unseen.

 

Untitled works Berlin London and New York gallery exhibition by Katharina Grosse from GermanyKatharina Grosse: Prototypes of Imagination, installation view at Gagosian Britannia Street, London. Artworks © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Lucy Dawkins

 

A simple gesture, but such a profound one as well—Gross shows us only some of what exists. Our perspective is the key, not only to unlock what we know about these pictures, but also about ourselves, about each other, about the universe. This could be what Grosse means when she says that “there is no boundary between reality and the imagination.” Our imagination is but a glimpse of what has not yet been realized. It is a peek behind the picture at a hidden world. By inviting us to see beyond what is normally visible, Grosse is extending the invitation to us to recognize the many dimensions that might possibly exist around us. Though this is the simplest and most straightforward exhibition of her work in years, it is simultaneously a perfect expression of her idea, that being human is an experience of living inside the world while also looking at the world—that we inhabit the world and interact with it at the same time.

 

 

Featured image: Katharina Grosse: Prototypes of Imagination, installation view at Gagosian Britannia Street, London. Artworks © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Lucy Dawkins

By Phillip Barcio

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