Katharina Grosse


Katharina Grosse

Work from I Think This Is a Pine Tree at KHB.

“In a large room, three tree trunks lie haphazardly in a pile at a slight angle to the wall. They have been stripped of their branches and bark but their roots remain intact, awkwardly protruding into a closed doorway. The trees along with the floor and wall of the museum have been doused with an energetic — if not defiant — series of gestures of brightly colored spray paint. The piece, “I Think This Is a Pine Tree” (2013), by Katharina Grosse at the Hamburger Banhof Museum for Contemporary Art in Berlin was a jolt to my system. Like any discovery of an uprooted tree, Grosse’s piece is familiar, while taking on its own immediate dramatic presence. It contains recognizable elements — gestures evocative of Abstract Expressionism, an application reminiscent of graffiti — but the work is not merely a mix and match of previously explored territory.

“I Think This Is a Pine Tree” delivered a sensation often sought by any visitor to a contemporary art museum. Goosebumps formed on my neck and blood pumped to my limbs causing the urge to run, skip, and jump around in a fight or flight response of viewership. My ego was having none of it. “Come on you’re in a museum. Yeah, you came here searching for this very feeling but play it cool. You are an educated adult for god’s sake! Go read the description, look ponderously at the piece, and start figuring out why it made you feel this way. Spread your response out over time; mix some delayed gratification in with work. Maybe write something about it. Just do not hurdle those tree trunks!”

Traditional Abstract Expressionism is often applied (and I say this as someone who painted in an Abstract Expressionist style for some years) through pushing paint, building on blank canvas and other paint. The physical structure and texture of an Ab-Ex piece is often redefined by the medium itself. Ab-Ex artists have broken the picture plane, cut through the canvas, exposed the stretcher bars, even hacked them up but the plane almost always remains in a back and forth relationship with the medium, even if only referentially or antagonistically. Grosse is not painting outside the picture plane, because there is none. She is using spray paint exactly how it was designed to be used, to paint over something, to move without touching what is painted, free of friction. Spray paint evokes graffiti, but there is nothing approaching image or text in Grosse’s marks, nor is the piece framed by or directly responding to the architecture like graffiti often does. Rather, the floor, the wall, the trees are all fair game in coloring movements. The distinction between these structures is not necessarily ignored nor accentuated by the application of the paint. As a result, “I Think This Is a Pine Tree” manages to be a series of actions, despite its form as an installation, sculpture, and painting…” – Hyperallergic

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