Katharina Grosse’s red bolts of color on white transform an aquatic building hit by Hurricane Sandy into a new art destination on the Rockaway Beach front at Fort Tilden. Grosse’s uses of color “break all the rules” and literally create a new dimension, turning an old ruin into a dynamic, color-coded space that interacts with people, sky, grasses, sand, and ocean. People literally danced in, on, and around Grosse’s new art object as deejays added to the festive mood. The beach has been converted from a sleepy hideaway without lifeguards near an unused U. S. Army coast artillery post into one filled with bikers, beachgoers, and families. The untitled art is on view through November and is part of the Rockaway! National Parks Service and MoMA PS1 hurricane recovery effort for the Rockaway Peninsula.
Here’s my exclusive interview with Grosse, followed by more on Grosse, more on PS1 Director Klaus Biesenbach’s efforts to restore the Rockaways, and directions to Fort Tilden:
Jan Castro: What is your theory of color and how is it evolving?
Katharina Grosse: I do not have a color theory and don’t work from theory. I realized at some point that color is my main interest.
Castro: Could you discuss the differences between your initial idea for your red and white Rockaway beach house project and the finished work?
Grosse: The Rockaway project was offered to me by Klaus Biesenbach. He sent me pictures four months ago of the buildings by the sea. I built models showing three buildings. We decided to focus on one.
Klaus came to the studio [in Berlin] twice. I made tests using three different red tones and used the models to decide the basics. We chose white plus three kinds of red: Pyrrole Red Light, Pyrrole Red, and Primary Magenta. Once I was on site, each day I had to think through the different stages, the four sides of the house, the roof, the inside and outside areas, and the ways the light changes all the time.
Before I arrived, the Rockaway Parks Conservancy people had to approve the quality of paint, which comes from Golden Paints, the best acrylic paint producer, in New Berlin, New York, and the crew of four worked on technical things, including masking off the area.
Castro: Was weather an element?
Gross: One day we had to stop because it was too windy. After we finished, there was a rainstorm, and we had to blow some sand out of the house.
Castro: You bring out the primary colors of the site itself – blue sky, yellow sand, red house, and white for light.
You spoke in a 2015 talk about using color to alter subject-object relationships. Could you elaborate and discuss how color connects the building to its surroundings?
Gross: The color glowed from the roof to the ground, and the functions of roof, ground, and walls changed due to the spaces painted on top of them.
Castro: You sometimes incorporate earth and dead trees into your work. Do you use color to make nature more visible?
Grosse: That could be one reason, also to give something higher emotional compression.
Castro: How did you decide on the palette for your Venice Biennale piece?
Grosse: That was a totally different piece. I wanted it to be multicolored, complicated, and with lots of layers; the colors made the movements [in the art] traceable.
Castro: Why is color still a new frontier?
Grosse: Color goes directly to your senses. You respond right away somehow. It’s difficult to say what it does. People are still afraid of it. What it does to you is changing all the time. Color has the wonderful ability to transform situations again and again and again.
Castro: Do you have any color heros?
Grosse: A lot: Titian, Rothko, Pililotti Rist. That’s not the only thing important in my work. It could be fresco painting in the Renaissance, a dance performance, film, video, movement…
Castro: What are you working on next?
Grosse: I plan to spend this year working in my studio. I accepted only one amazing site-related offer for the end of July – painting the entrance hall inside a recreation center building at Washington University, St. Louis, a site used in the third modern Olympic Games, 1904 — the first Olympics held in the Western hemisphere. After the Games, the committee turned the gym over to Washington University to be used as part of the athletics department.
Katharina Grosse has a solo exhibition at Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden, Germany that closes October 9th. Her extensive exhibitions, commissions, and awards between 2013 – 2015 include The 56th Venice Art Biennale; the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow; Wiesbaden Museum, Germany; Philadelphia Mural Arts; Oskar Schlemmer Award, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany; De Pont Museum, Tilburg, The Netherlands; Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas; Public Art Fund, New York. See also www.KatharinaGrosse.com/ .
Klaus Biesenbach, PS1 Director and MoMA Chief Curator at Large, has led several art and relief initiatives to restore the Rockaways since Hurricane Sandy devastated the area in 2012.
Fort Tilden (169 State Road) is accessible by the Q22, Q35, and Q52 buses, the A train/shuttle to 116th St. and weekend ferry service on the American Princess. Street parking is available. Fort Tilden is part of the National Park Service and the Gateway National Recreation Area.