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Katharina Grosse / Nationa Gallery Prague

The gallery attendants waddle up and down the huge space of the functionalist style Great Hall of the Trade Fair Palace like tiny wind-up official toys hopelessly overwhelmed by the piece of art they have to monitor.  It’s German artist Katharina Grosse’s latest site-specific piece ‘Wunderbild’, or, in Czech, Zázraný obraz, ‘Miraculous Picture,’ a Hall-embracing monumental blast of acrylic paint on fabric sheets hung from the ceiling and spilling like the trains of a troop of giantess’s wedding dresses along the floor.  

Grosse uses all sorts of tools, from fingers to tiny brushes to rollers, but she’s obviously a natural when it comes to handling the industrial spray-gun. “The paint supply of the gun is incredibly generous and the air-supply amplifies your reach and accelerates your movements…I can make more happen in less time. It really is like a synthetic organ that can touch and encompass space and shrink distances.”  The shrinkage she describes is very real. As I stroll along the central space between the great fabric sheets draped on either side of the hall, it’s like wandering through some giant painter’s gigantic studio. But there’s far more to Grosse’s piece than overwhelming monumentality.

If one does feel diminished, it is, or should be, an amusing sense of diminishment, which gradually fades as one becomes drawn into the riotous dual panoramas of swirling vari-coloured paint, as if Grosse has taken hold of the whole spectrum and shredded it into ribbons and loops to make these abstract landscapes. There are wild parts and ethereal parts, and with every step the effect changes.  On the right-hand side from the entrance, somewhere in the middle, one comes to a restful bunch of crimson ruffles blending into a diffuse sky-blue topped with a pale daffodil yellow; adjacent is a waterfall of rushing fluorescent yellow, inviting a contemplative pause, as in some clearing of a lush tropical jungle.  It’s a thoroughly immersive experience, with the paint, shimmering and pulsing like the light effects of a – painless – migraine, magnetizing the attention.

Grosse uses a layering effect to draw the eye into her gorgeous profusions of wild colour: canvas-shaped fields overlie each other, slashes of white space relieve the dense incestuous techni-colour weaves of paint, increasing their intensity, and the sheets bearing the paint don’t always quite connect, encouraging a sense of the makeshift, making the attention cling more tenaciously.  There’s also a strange three-dimensional effect to parts of the painting itself, confirming Grosse’s description of using the industrial paint-sprayer, the paint is “in the air, off the surface, loose.”

The industrial spray-gun allows Grosse to realize her yearning for unrestricted painting, painting which defies a pre-defined space. “I’m interested in the space generated by the painted image and how it can appear in any kind of existing field.”  Parts of this massive painting certainly do seem to be erupting into their own space, like those baby universes the cosmologists talk about, creating their own space and time as they abruptly bloom. And the work as a whole also seems to have cut loose from it’s moorings in the Great Hall like some dimensionless cloud of crazed matter, a kind of disorderly Big Bang, in which can be detected all geometries and all possible forms.

There’s a sound installation accompanying the painting which involves barely noticeable discordancies, and which I only realized was there after leaving the hall.  I doubt it adds in any significant way to the experience of the painting, which has all the ingredients for, mostly enjoyable, sensual disorientation. Outside the entrance to the Trade Fair Palace Grosse has placed a bundle of tree-trunks covered in spray-paint which overflows across the pavement, acting as a kind of starter to the main double dish of her miraculous dream.

Katharina Grosse
National Gallery Prague
Trade Fair Palace
Dukelských hridinů 47
Until 6th of January 2019

Images courtesy of the National Gallery Prague.