Women in Art: Katharina Fritsch

Katharina Fritsch’s work has tremendous appeal to our sense of youth. Her large scale, brightly colored sculptures are simultaneously playful and terrifying, looming larger than life in a way reminiscent of the gargantuan landscape we navigated as small children. In fact, at her current exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago I observed a number of children running between her pieces with delight, shouting excitedly to one another as well as to their parents. It’s unsurprising, given the electric colors and the whimsical subject matter, that Fritsch would be popular with kids.

Fritsch and her work at the Art Institute. Photos by Max Herman via TimeOut Chicago.

Fritsch and her work at the Art Institute. Photos by Max Herman via TimeOut Chicago.

Fritsch's work against the Chicago skyline.

Fritsch’s work against the Chicago skyline.

As adults, however, we sense something more sinister in Fritsch’s work. The same factors that made the  twins in The Shining so very terrifying are at play here. The uneasy sense of repetition, the matte quality of the color, and the emotional blankness of the figures are very off-putting. One of Fritsch’s pieces, Monk, is placed at the end of a hallway, directly around a corner for some. Imagine how it feels to turn to your right and see this staring back at you:

Monk (1997-99)

Monk (1997-99)

I’ve watched enough bad horror movies (And episodes of Doctor Who, honestly) to know that this can mean nothing good.

Looking at a description of Monk on the Art Institute’s site, Fritsch’s work is categorized as “art that goes bump in the night”. And it’s true. This monk has closed eyes and holds his arms stiffly at his side. He is potentially meditating, and yet, it seems as though at any moment he could lift his gaze and stride towards us. We are disturbing him, and encroaching upon his privacy. His matte black appearance robs him of individuality (Although presumably, as a monk, little emphasis would be placed upon individuality anyway?) and makes him appear to be another frightening figure hiding in the dark. The viewer struggles to reconcile his Franciscan “goodness” with the shadowy figure before us.

This is a common characteristic of Fritsch’s work. Large, playful figures that, upon closer examination, are more compellingly dark than they appear. Fritsch’s frequent topics, drawing upon religious themes and folklore with frequent references to art history and the experience of the museum-goer, lend themselves well to this sense of eeriness.

Group of Figures (2006-08)

Group of Figures (2006-08)

Kind mit Pudeln (1995-96)

Kind mit Pudeln (1995-96)

Pudel (1995)

Pudel (1995)

Hahn/Cock (2011)

Hahn/Cock (2011)

An interesting aspect of Fritsch’s work is found in its industrial nature. She combines traditional sculpture methods with factory-based production techniques (although her early works were entirely handcrafted) by creating the sculpture’s models and then submitting them for replication. She then proceeds to create molds, making multiples of each piece. We can tie this to the factory based method of art production practiced by a wide range of artists, from 18th century sculptors to contemporary artists such as Koons and Murakami.

Fritsch’s work is also visually similar to that of photographer and installation artist Sandy Skoglund. While Skoglund’s repeated, brightly colored forms are more reliant upon their settings, they share a number of similarities. Check out these two works by Skoglund:

Sandy Skoglund's Cats in Paris, 1993

Sandy Skoglund’s Cats in Paris, 1993

Skoglund’s The Green House, 1990

Both artists are using repeated forms (Fritsch’s forms being identical copies, Skoglund’s being nonidentical but very, very similar) in bright, electric colors. Both artists play with size (Which is visible in Skoglund’s other work, a selection of which you can see here). Skoglund’s pieces are much more about being overwhelmed, often by nature, while Fritsch’s pieces are meant to be darker. It’s interesting that Skoglund and Fritsch were creating these pieces within the same time period given the many shared aspects of their work. I would love to see an exhibition pairing the two together.

So what do you think of Fritsch (Or Skoglund)? Do you find her work to be frightening or whimsical? Are there other artists making comparable work?

If you’re interested in checking out more work by Fritsch take a look at her Selected Works page by the Matthew Marks Gallery.

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