The hallmark of Katharina Grosse’s ground-breaking oeuvre is transgression. In her case, however, transgression means more – not only does the painting leap across the established borders of the picture but it also crosses over the fixed outlines of objects as defined by the words that give them names. The medium of this transgression is sprayed paint: like the roaming, unfocussed human eye, it is able to occupy any accessible surface, regardless of any traditional classification. With the pictorial quality of her coloured precipitations, with the immersive character of her painting, and with its assault on agreed and appointed reality Grosse orients her work towards the conditions of the spectacle. The concept of the spectacle, introduced by the French artist and situationist thinker Guy Debord, describes the transformation of given reality into an illusory world of images, a kind of commodity-like surrogate. Yet while Grosse’s painting dissolves identities, the spectacle relies on their ultimate fixity. Thus the inscription of her painting into the world of the spectacle deprives the spectacle of its very foundation. Grosse’s painting becomes a contemporary form of cave painting. Whereas that earliest capturing of creatures in spell-bound, transfixed form marks the “birth of art” (Georges Bataille), Grosse’s painterly transgression breaks this spell, separates painting from its objects, and involves art in a process of “de-creation” (Giorgio Agamben).
In 2013, Grosse took a further step away from accustomed artistic creation: she had a photographic reproduction of a painting she had formerly sprayed onto architecture – her first sprayed painting in situ – printed on a textile fabric in the scale 1:1 and then exhibited. Subsequently, further prints of photographs on loosely hung cloths followed, demonstrating what Grosse’s sprayed painting excludes: for example, all the paint and colour that remain on the studio walls when the painting itself – i.e. the precipitate on the stretched canvas – is released onto the roundabout of exhibitions and markets; then studio equipment of various kinds, such as crumpled and reflecting cover sheeting; or paint-steeped hands that display and bring back something of the artist’s body that had been enclosed in a protective suit during the toxic spraying process. Above all, however, the wall-size prints of photographs enable Grosse to take hold of the now absent past. The print and the spatially powerful positioning of the coloured cloths endow the reproduction with a new form of presence, both derivative and original: while the photographic reproduction makes the past again accessible, the colours, printed by ink-jet in maximum expanse and exhibited in architectural dimensions, are just as immediate and present as those sprayed with the airbrush over architecture and landscape.
Here and now, Grosse takes these developments even farther. The colours of the photographic reproduction, tied to the excluded and past elements of her own painterly praxis and yet detached from them, is given a new, transformed presence in richly experimental works printed on small metal discs tightly interlinked to form the highly flexible surface of metal mesh. The dimensions of Grosse’s print Apollo, Apollo, now exhibited for the first time in the Espace Fondation Louis Vuitton during the Venice Biennale 2022, are a vast 760 x 1,372 cm. Over its entire expanse, the shimmering grey metal has been printed with a composite photograph of hands that are steeped in gleaming paint and seem to tug left and right at equally colour-steeped fabrics. In the artist’s own words: “The image is chosen from a series of photographs showing situations or actions connected to my painting practice in some way or another. Depicting a moment where the boundaries between the artist’s body and the material blur in the act of painting, the work oscillates between surface, texture, image and object, order and disorder, destruction and creation, tension and release, forced and free-flowing movement.”
As if in a technological reversion to Stone Age hand-imprints, the selfsame artist’s hand that withdrew from the actual production of a work such as Apollo, Apollo now comes back into play. Printed paint in the shape of hands and folds of fabric combines with the gathered metal mesh, gliding and slithering down from wall to floor like a viscous liquid. What we see is a toxically glittering, image-bearing skin, whose delicate yet resilient materiality resists any immediate identification.
The decisive condition for Grosse’s painting in general is the separation of the paint from its support: there is no obligation for the paint to settle on a certain object as the concept of local colour might suggest. Through the printing of the reproduction on metal sequins the coloured precipitation of sprayed painting is released from being bound to any fixed place and stands ready – provisional in time, transposed in space and heedless of the appropriateness of its location – to lay down a coloured image on any given reality.