From 3 June to 30 August 2009, the Kunsthaus Zürich
will host a retrospective devoted to the work of Katharina Fritsch, one of the most significant artists of our day. The show will also include new pieces by the artist. Famed for her large-scale sculptures, whose hypnotic effect the viewer experiences in the blink of an eye, Fritsch plays with humanitys primeval ideas, desires and fears. Her most recent art ventures into fresh artistic territory, including erotica as seen from the female point of view.
Katharina Fritsch (born 1956) is among the most important artists working today. Her works three-dimensional pictures only identifiable as sculptures on second glance are energetic presences to be found in numerous public and private collections. With their succinct visual speech, works such as Warengestell mit Madonnen (Display Stand with Madonnas), 1989, Tischgesellschaft (Company at Table), 1988, and Elefant (Elephant), 1987, firmly anchor themselves in the collective memory of the viewing public and are among the some 80 objects comprised by the retrospective at the Kunsthaus Zürich, where the artist has already been seen in the thematic exhibitions Hypermental (2000) and Signs and Wonders (1995), both of them, like the present show, curated by Bice Curiger.
Influences from Minimal Art to Pop Culture
From our vantage point in the present, we can make out an impressive coherence and profundity of subjects and motifs in Fritschs oeuvre, a good thirty years in the making. Her pictures, sculptural apparitions that nevertheless remain ineffable, take up space. The viewer grasps them immediately, and yet continues to wrestle with their latent meaning. Her process, which includes expunging any evidence of personality from her sculptural surfaces, meticulously calculating proportions and lending her more recent silk-screened pictures an immaterial cast, reveals Fritschs debt to the severity of Minimal Art as well as her interest in artificial and cultural paradigms transcending the individual.
From Cook to Smiling Double Bed by Way of Garden
The exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich is half composed of more recent and entirely new works, including large-format Raumbilder (spatial images), which it presents as a precise interaction between sculptures and ethereally oversized silk-screens.
Visitors are greeted by a bright yellow cook bearing a bright yellow plate, on which are arrayed a bright yellow cutlet and similarly coloured potatoes and peas. The brilliant figure stands in front of a large image of a sinister-looking inn, the Schwarzwaldhaus. The observers very first encounter with the art of Katharina Fritsch, therefore, before they have even entered the exhibition proper, already stirs those contradictory feelings that are characteristic of so many of her works. While their eye is drawn by the realistic features of the cook, itself belied by his generic unreality, as well as by the seductively satin-black tones of the photograph, visitors are likely to ask themselves whether the museum is in fact an inn, and whether art is itself nothing more than a commodity, for all that it is ceremoniously presented to the consumer. These first few seconds of consternation thus hold a mirror to the stereotypes of our own experience, and unite us all by rendering the slings and arrows of our fortune in an elementary iconography, one which schools us in the idiosyncratic rhetorical register, somewhere between dismal melancholy and subtle humour, that seems to hang over Fritschs entire oeuvre.
A further prominent example is Fritsch's Frau mit Hund (Woman with Dog), 2004, a large ensemble comprising a female figure composed of pink shells, 32 umbrellas floating on the ceiling, and magnified postcard views. The work conjures up the complex aura of a city like Paris, alludes to Rococo and to pop culture, and serenely evokes the difficult subject of simplicity. And while an older group of works by Fritsch constitutes a curious modern elegy to the subject of the garden, one of her most recent pieces invites the viewer into a metabedroom: in her smiling double bed strewn with rose petals and adorned with male pinups, Fritsch ventures with subversive levity into a masculine preserve of art history.
Katharina Fritsch was born in Essen in 1956. She studied general and art history in Münster before attending Fritz Schweglers classes at the Art Academy of Düsseldorf, and showed her first sculptures in 1979. In the 1980s she frequently took her motifs from the world of commodities. Her international breakthrough came in 1984 at Düsseldorfs Von hier aus (From Here On) exhibition. In 1988 she exhibited at the Kunsthalle Basel and in 1997 at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst. After representing Germany at the 1995 Venice Biennale she was the recipient of such major awards as the Aachen Prize for Art (1996) and the Piepenbrock Prize for Sculpture (2008).
Fritsch lives and works in Düsseldorf. In 2001 she was made a professor of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts Münster, a post she holds to this day. That same year she was the subject of a major one-woman show at the Tate Modern in London, held in cooperation with Düsseldorfs K21.