Katharina Grosse: Bad Painting Without Irony

Gagosian Jan 19-Mar 11, 2017

Untitled Acrylic on canvas 114 3/16” × 76” 2016

Sincerity has returned to Chelsea in a big way, most notably in the work of Katharina Grosse.

For one thing, Grosse confesses that by using a spray gun she can express her thoughts very quickly.

But has there been any call for that? More hurriedly expressed thoughts—in any form?


Grosse’s local claim to fame is spraying one of the dear old buildings and surrounding sand at Ft Tilden, post-Sandy, in sweeping swathes of red and white. It had a certain startling garish incompatability with the beachscape, though oddly that was not the way they “sold it”. Supposedly, it brought down the colors of the sunset—at least a couple of them.

I’ve never seen any funded graffiti that did anything for me—it’s a genre that resists commodification. However, no harm done. If Grosse sprays the “toxic sublime” (from the gallery notes) on a tear-down and no OSHA rules are literally broken it’s just a day at the beach.

kg                                                                                       Untitled 2016

But now she’s working on canvas where, as she puts it “there’s less resistance.”

So truein a way. But no spectacle either, no texture, no way for color to blur or change the shapes of other things, or to take “away the boundary of the object”, which is one of the more interesting thoughts she has brought to her work. And that garish incompatibility that makes her art stand out in the world? Gone too a painting is a world unto itself.

And there is resistance. It comes in the form of greater emotional and intellectual expectations for a non-ephemeral work on canvas—it must justify its claim on our time and attention. It’s obvious. We will bring a different kind of scrutiny to bear on what threatens to be permanent.



                                                                                         Untitled 2016

Though Grosse’s canvases are too big, they are too smallthe edges crowd the image. They are McPaintings; like McMansions, they bear no relation to the size of the lot.

The paintings are additive conglomerations of effects: sprays and drips and swathes in layers of “unmixed color”, the last is stressed every time she describes her work. Is it a virtue in and of itself—to use paint directly from the can?  It seems to preclude the possibility of a fade thus diminishing the range of the gun. For abrupt transitions she uses mattes, they give the resulting image a constricted look.

It’s hard to know how intentional the figuration in Grosse’s work is. In one of the paintings above, there seems to be a human figure; it is reminiscent of a poster for a charity run that fluttered from lamp posts last year. Otherwise a skinny guy with a donkey head, a torture mask, a heart shape and so on. I have no idea whether these images are intentional or not, nor can I understand the following reductive statement by the artist.


“A painting is simply a screen between the producer and the spectator where both can look at the thought processes residing on the screen from different angles and points in time. It enables me to look at the residue of my thinking.” KG


                                                                                        Untitled 2016

Bad” painting wasn’t all good—at its best, though, it was liberating, the artist sharing a joke with a viewer who knew what conventions are being challenged. Irony was so popular that it was overused, but God help us if we’re faced with bullying sincerity–bad painting that congratulates itself.

And why do I write about what I think is so pointless? Believe me, I’ve asked myself that question too. However, this stuff is going to be bought by rich people with more money than taste, they will donate it to museums, and bully them into showing it and thereby increasing its value. If we don’t say anything, we will only be left with the residue of their thoughts.                                                                                      –CNQ

This is a link to Sharon Butler’s  bit nicer review of Katharina Grosse.  I learned quite a bit from watching a filmed interview to be found there.


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