Now through June 21, Johan König in Berlin presents The Smoking Kid, a collection of new paintings by Katharina Grosse. Grosse is known for her work employing bold colors and ambitious movement in order to transcend, open, and test the limits and boundaries defining space. Color and gesture are central concerns of this artist, whose works are at once challenging and whimsical, and her current exhibition departs from Grosse’s typical method of large-scale sculptural installation, turning her abstract style instead towards work in which movement and color is tidily contained to the canvas instead of imposed onto walls and other three dimensional forms.
Grosse is known more readily for her intricate constructions and mold-breaking paintings, typically employing found objects, wood, and mounds of dirt in her practice. The artist’s method usually involves an industrial spray gun, with which a dizzying array of rich colors is applied to these constructed forms, canvas, and occasionally the walls and windows of the gallery in which the work is exhibited. Grosse’s method has been compared to street art and graffiti, coating the objects and surfaces in her path with bright color, while moving away from the often figurative approach of traditional street art.
The paintings included in The Smoking Kid reflect the mastery of color and abstract form characteristic in Grosse’s work. Though in these pieces color is confined to the canvas, Grosse produced them using the same spray gun technique in which she stands back from her paintings, approaching the work from a distance. As the press release states, the work seeks to “invite the beholder to enter into a corporeal relationship with [the paintings], to push off from them, to plunge into them, and so to explore the often enigmatic-seeming illusory space that painterly means have created.” Accordingly, Grosse seeks to pictorially open up and dive into the space and surface of the images, contesting the two-dimensional quality of paint on canvas.
This exhibition marks the opening of the newly renovated church recently converted into an extension of the Johan König gallery space. These paintings seem tailor-made to enhance the dramatic effect of this reconstructed, brutalist church, with incredibly high ceilings on the third floor gallery dwarfing the visitors, while relying on the paintings to impose layers absorbing their viewer. The arrangement of images in this vast and impressive space lends an effect of mirroring, as they seem to warp and reflect each other across the space of the gallery.
Though this show engages with space and structure in a less explicit way than previous installations and sculpture-based exhibitions, Grosse’s placement of these large-scale paintings in a luminous and immensely spacious gallery successfully questions the relationship between incidental and fabricated space on more subtle terms. This show constitutes a seemingly more conventional approach by Grosse, taking on similar artistic concerns in a new context and approach. However, in the composition of space, and in the paintings exhibited, the orderly and disciplinary layout of the gallery is interrogated at the most basic and explicit level. Grosse taps into the potential for two-dimensional, pictorial space to scramble, expand, or otherwise intervene in the spatial relationships of the viewing of art.
The exhibition closes on June 21st.
— A. Corrigan
Exhibition Page [Johan König Gallery]