vor 4 years

“For every action there is a reaction, and everything is mutually dependent. An entire system can slip out of control at the slightest change.”


As a woman being almost 6 feet tall, I rarely ever feel small. Standing next to Katharina Grosse’s newest painting „It wasn’t Us“ was an exception.

„Acrylic on floor, polystyrene and bronze; paint on asphalt, concrete and metal, 700 x 6,500 x 18,300 cm“ reads the description of the piece currently displayed at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin. A painting this size comes with a safety notice: „Please watch out for the steps found in the painted areas (indoors and outdoors), and move through the exhibition with care.“ What might seem a little excessive at first, is a pretty close prognosis of what is likely to be happening to the viewers. All over the premises visitors keep falling (not only over steps, but also their own feet), as no one seems to know where to go to, where to look, and what to make of all this mess.

“I painted my way out of the building”, said Grosse in relation to her work. More specifically, she let a stream of bright colors run all over the floor of the historic hall of the museum, covering a group of huge towering forms crafted from polystyrene in its center, creeping out the back door, finding its way all over the outdoor space behind the building, where it finally crawls up the façade of the Rieckhallen, an additional building to the museum. Grosse’s kaleidoscopic painting brings together colors and forms, natural and man-made surroundings, and its visitors are participants in an all- encompassing interaction of hues. The gigantic forms inside of the hall seem like relics of tragedy, reminding one of the remains of an airplane crash, or of huge amounts of water that have suddenly been frozen in the middle of sweeping movement. The colors, on the other hand, are cheerful and energetic, creating a battle of movement against standstill. While the section of the painting located indoors is influenced by the architectural elements of the space and the ever-changing light conditions throughout the day and seasons, the outdoor sections interact with the trees and greenery, the weather conditions, and the day-to-day happenings amongst the square.

The exhibition was prepared over the course of two years and is her largest European work to date. The objects were created through digital cutting technologies, with the shape of each element refined by hand before being processed into data via a 3D scanning system, in order to create the successive larger object. Those objects were then brought into the hall with a huge team of workers. Over several days the artist used a hot wire to create indentations and fine furrows in the fragile objects before covering them and the floor of the building with dynamic swathes of color with a spray gun, layer by layer. Through this process, the colors adapted differently to the varying surfaces.

The work’s title, “It Wasn’t Us,” can be understood as a reference to the complexity and unpredictability of a given situation. Everything we do is always influenced by unexpected moments and experiences as well as blind spots that later define a situation. Not everything can be predicted in advance, yet it is our task to assume responsibility for the complete situation. “Of course, I did not think about a pandemic as I was considering the exhibition’s title. But now more than ever we recognize that we cannot shy away from responsibility. For every action there is a reaction, and everything is mutually dependent. An entire system can slip out of control at the slightest change. This applies to an image, and it also applies to the real world.”, says Grosse.

Katharina Grosse’s paintings have never been one for traditional canvases: her work is found on rubber boots, on an egg, in the crook of an arm, on the crumpled folds of a cloth, on the floor, along a railway line, on the beach, in the snow, on a sculptural form, or even across façades and roofs. Born in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1961, the artist now lives and works between Berlin and New Zealand. Her work has been shown in galleries all over the world, such as the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, the 56th Biennale di Venezia and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.



The ‘It Wasn’t Us’ exhibition runs through January 2021 at the Hamburger Bahnhof.


Text by Ann-Kathrin Lietz
Imagery by Jens Ziehe, courtesy of Hamburger Bahnfof

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