Exhibition: Katharina Grosse. Studio Paintings, 1988-2022 | Kunstmuseum Bern

Exhibition: Katharina Grosse. Studio Paintings, 1988–2022

Katharina Grosse
Studio Paintings, 1988-2022

Between 3 March and 25 June 2023 the Kunstmuseum Bern is showing a major exhibition devoted to Katharina Grosse. It is the first exhibition in Switzerland to focus on Grosse's studio works. The large- format, vibrantly coloured paintings from the 1980s until the present clearly show the importance of the works on canvas in the German artist's oeuvre as a whole.

Since the 1990s Katharina Grosse (born 1961) has developed a body of work marked by an interest in performativity and mediality. Of central importance to Grosse's practice is colour: she experiments with its physical presence and its sensory and socio-political potential. Grosse uses paint in order to break down conventional relationships between foreground, background and underground - both on the canvas and beyond it. The exhibition addresses the canvas paintings that Katharina Grosse made in her studio between the late 1980s and the present.

In this large survey exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Bern is showing 43 paintings from all phases of her work, and three new room-sized photographic prints on fabric. The exhibition was conceived by the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum in St Louis and reimagined in collaboration with the artist for the galleries of the Kunstmuseum Bern.

Exhibition: Katharina Grosse. Studio Paintings, 1988–2022
Katharina Grosse. Untitled, 2020
Acrylic on canvas and wood. 299 x 605 cm
Foto: Jens Ziehe
Courtesy: Galerie nächst. St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Wien, Österreich
© 2023, ProLitteris, Zurich

Studio works as a new perspective
Katharina Grosse already began working on her first studio works while studying at Kunstakademie Dusseldorf between 1986 and 1990. Based on these works the German artist achieved a breakthrough in the 1990s: in the Kunsthalle Bern in 1998 she made her very first spray-paint intervention - a method for which she is now internationally famous. With the three large- format photographic prints on fabric, the exhibition in the Kunstmuseum Bern 25 years later shows yet again a site-related installation by Katharina Grosse and sheds new light on the artist's work, always moving along the boundaries of current ideas of painting, from the viewpoint of her studio works.

Returns, revisions, inventions
Like Grosse's artistic process, the exhibition is divided into two thematic chapters, in which paintings from different phases of the artist's work confront one another. In the first chapter Returns, Revisions, Inventions the artistic process is laid bare in all its revisions and new inventions. The juxtaposition of paintings from different decades reveals the ways in which Katharina Grosse returns to previous moments in her own oeuvre and develops them further with new inventions. Colours and forms, materials and working methods appear, then reappear transformed. For example Grosse has recurrently experimented with the course of a line, whether painted, with a brush, sprayed from a gun or both at once.

The second chapter Fissures and Ruptures expands on this approach, and highlights the various methods Grosse uses to break up the homogenous surface of the image in order to question its autonomy and connect it to the spaces of the everyday. Since 1998 Grosse has painted not only with brushes but also with industrial spray-gun that allow her to paint - without any physical contact with the surface - across the edges of the canvas into built space. Throughout the 2010s she also started interrupting her painting process with stencils. By using cardboard, studio waste and materials alien to painting such as piles of earth, she covers parts of the painting and in this away confuses foreground and background in the painting. This approach reached a radical climax in 2020 when Grosse began to slash her paintings and in this way make the wall behind the canvas part of the painting.

Colour play for the senses
The element of colour is of central importance in the interplay of references and ruptures in Grosse's painting. The artist assigns an immediate resonance to colour, which hits the viewer before one has fully grasped it:

'Colour is so important to me because it creates an immediate resonance within you. Before you know it, you have a visceral reaction to it, like a voice in a performance that hits you before you can even discern words or lyrics.'

The pure, strong colours that Grosse uses reveal their full effect in the large- format paintings, and plunge viewers into a sensual play of colours. With constantly new variations and unfamiliar minglings of foreground, background and sourrounding space, the works invite the viewer to discover diversity and adopt different perspectives - an approach that reflects not only sensory but in many respects socio-political potential.

Exhibition: Katharina Grosse. Studio Paintings, 1988–2022
Katharina Grosse. Untitled, 1991
Oil on canvas. 200 x 300 cm
© 2023, ProLitteris, Zurich

The opening of the exhibition will take place on Thursday, 2 March 2023, from 6.30 pm. Admission to the exhibition is free on this evening. Speakers: Nina Zimmer, Director Kunstmuseum Bern - Zentrum Paul Klee and Kathleen BQhler, Head Curator Kunstmuseum Bern. The artist will be present at the opening and will talk to curator Kathleen Buhler about her Studio Paintings, the development of her working process and the limits of painting.

The exhibition has been organised by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (Washington University in St. Louis, USA) in cooperation with the Kunstmuseum Bern. It has been curated by Dr. Sabine Eckmann, William T. Kemper Director and Chief Curator; the presentation at the Kunstmuseum Bern has been curated by Dr. Kathleen BQhler, Chief Curator Kunstmuseum Bern. A bilingual catalogue in English and German has been published by Hatje Cantz and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

With the support of
Kanton Bern, Burgergemeinde Bern, UNIQA Fine Art Insurance, Ursula Wirz- Stiftung, Ruth & Arthur Scherbarth-Stiftung


Background information Q&A

What role does the imagination play in your painting?
Katharina Grosse: There is no boundary between reality and imagination. To imagine is to realise. My pictures are prototypes of this recognition; they try out - and dramatically compress - the characteristics of reality. I build prototypes of the imagination so that they can be re-enacted and applied to other fields of endeavour.
What I ask myself every day is, what would prototypes of possible realities look like if they didn't reduce complexity in the least, but instead celebrated the complexity of simultaneities? I want to show that it is always possible - not only for me, but for everyone - to also view and experience reality differently, not only where I show it, but everywhere. Always. Here. Now. It is simple but powerful, to experience that constant change is natural. Embracing uncertainty in such a way could influence how we look at gender, race, society, and politics.
With my painting I seek to compress emotions and incite agitation. I want us to be so disturbed, positively or negatively, that we develop the desire to change something - preferably immediately and repeatedly.

How did you arrive at painting as your chosen medium?
Katharina Grosse: I came to painting because I thought it was the most direct medium. It doesn't require a technical apparatus like a camera or a computer to process images. I thought it was the most tactile, visceral, and essential, and I wanted to work in an area that doesn't use language or photography. I wanted to work in an area where something exists before you start to think in language. That's how I discovered that colour is also so vital for me.
My bodily intelligence responds better to a tactile surface. I think there are so many images in our lives that come from homogeneous surfaces: from the screen, from photography, from our phones. I think tactile images or multilayer images like painting provide a different kind of knowledge, maybe one that is even more authentic.
Another reason is that painting is nonlinear; it has a very unique conception of time. Unlike any other medium it allows us to see different moments in time at once. There is no consecutive, linear movement in painting. All the layers on a coloured surface generate a cluster of time. One could also reverse the sequence of past, present, future to the point of nullifying them.

How do you conceive of colour in your work?
Katharina Grosse: Colour is so important to me because it creates an immediate resonance within you. Before you know it, you have a visceral reaction to it, like a voice in a performance that hits you before you can even discern words or lyrics.
Colour can appear anywhere. It is independent from any location; therefore, it has the power to sever usual connections and trespass on territories, anticipated content, beloved preferences, and fixed hierarchies. Colour gets to you like how noise, a scent, or taste affects you.

And your palette choice?
Katharina Grosse: I'd say that the most defining aspects of my palette are probably the saturation and artificiality of the colours, which for the most part are straight from the palette of the supplier I buy them from. For many years
now I haven't even mixed them. I use maybe three yellows, three reds, three greens, three blues, and a couple of in betweens - mostly to shift between cold and warm, opaque and translucent - and white. That's basically all.
I prefer to use artificial colours without any clear reference to either site or object. I want to infuse a certain energy or attention or transformational aspect into a situation or space.
The choice of colour always has to do with what else is around it, as colours are relational elements; they look a certain way only in relation to something else. But there's no hierarchy. A colour can enhance a space or an object in such a multifaceted way. It can turn in any direction at any moment.

How is the exhibition structured?
Kathleen Buhler: The exhibition is organised in two sections, each with a thematic focus. Returns, Revisions, Inventions on the upper floor comprises a broad range of paintings executed since the late 1980s and highlights the cyclical approach in which colours, 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 the artist entangles past, present, and future so that distinct notions of narrated, lived, and envisioned time are inseparable in an instantaneous perceptual experience.
The second section, Fissures and Ruptures, on the ground floor of the Atelier 5-building continues this exploration by concentrating on the various ways the artist 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 emphasise fragmentation and disorientation rather than unifying and contained structures.
The two chapters are linked by the new prints on artificial silk, which enlarge photographs from the painting process onto mural format and thus question the status of painting as original or copy as well as image on the wall, or image in space.



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