Article by Ester Ippolito // June 21, 2013
The white cube, both as a physical space and a concept, permeates the realm of museums and galleries. Contemporary artists have been working within the constraints of the white space for decades. Katharina Grosse’s Wunderblock, an exhibition that recently opened at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, embodies three works that each relate to and enhance the limitations of the white cube.
Based in Berlin, Grosse was trained at both the Kunstakadamie Mϋnster and Kunstakademie Dϋsseldorf. No stranger to Texas, she was an artist-in-residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa in 1999. Painter and sculptor, Grosse’s work has associations with street graffiti, Abstract Expressionism, arte povera, and fresco painting. Her palette focuses on an array of hues that span from vivid to harsh. From a process that begins with hundreds of color-filled bottles on her studio floor, Grosse selects her pigment much as a painter would create their palette. However, rather than wielding a brush, her instrument of choice is an airbrush. Grosse describes this technique as more freeing than the traditional sense of painting, stating “it was wonderful to be able to paint a picture without touching the canvas; this was a pure cerebral activity. It was also like painting in 3-D.” The effect is rich surfaces with textures created by heavy drips, flat washes, and light strokes of paint.
By utilizing this technique Grosse’s work creates environments with painted landscapes that are further transformed by the use of a range of objects. At the Nasher Sculpture Center, Grosse has primarily focused on laminated styrofoam, glass-fiber reinforced plastic, soil, canvas, and acrylic. In previous work she also used boulders, balloons, found objects, not to mention the ceiling, floors, and walls of a space. By these means, she is able to intensify the viewers experience in the white cube of the gallery.
Upon entering the first gallery of the exhibition the viewer catches sight of the tip of WUNDERBLOCK (2013), the work’s full mass and length dominates one half of the gallery space and continues onto the terrace. The sculpture is comprised of two pieces, one long serpentine object that spans the length of one wall and is met at the glass by a shorter piece on the terrace. As the viewer walks around the full breadth of the work significantly changes dependent on the point of view. When WUNDERBLOCK is observed by entering from the second gallery, the experience is totally changed, as the piece is seen in its entirety almost instantly. It is monumental, invading the space in an aggressive manner.
Foregoing the restrictive nature of the gallery altogether, Grosse places Untitled (2013), made of fiberglass and acrylic paint, directly into the garden. Her work immediately contrasts the natural tones of the vegetation with the massive formations cresting over the grass. Contrasting with the numerous bronze and steel sculptures in the garden, Grosse’s work enhances and disrupts the serene nature of the garden.
From the large planes of styrofoam on her massive forms to the small details of paint on the soil, the artist seems interested in creating dichotomies in her oeuvre. Untitled (2013), transforms the entire lower gallery creating a space the viewer is able to experience on multiple levels. The viewer can interact with the work by walking along paths created by the artist. Visually stunning architectural spaces are formed with mounds of soil and tilted or leaning wall paintings on monumental slabs of canvas. The room is doused with acrylic paint that spans from the soil to the canvas and onto the walls; the viewer walks through a painted ephemeral land.
With each visitor that steps into the space there is an opportunity for the work to change, not only in the lower gallery where the soil is physically crushed with the pressure of each step, but also in the gallery and garden where through their presence visitors create relationships with the works. Katharina Grosse’s work both rejects and enhances the constraints of the closed white gallery space in each of her three pieces at the Nasher Sculpture Center.
NASHER SCULPTURE CENTER
“WUNDERBLOCK” – KATHARINA GROSSE
Exhibition: Jun. 01 – Sept. 01, 2013