‘I’m Talking to the World While Painting on It’: Watch Artist Katharina Grosse Transform Vast Spaces Into Three-Dimensional Paintings

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 7 episode, "Fiction." © Art21, Inc. 2014.

German artist Katharina Grosse might technically be classified as a painter, but the artist has made a career out of exploding the limitations of the medium (sometimes quite literally). Her sprawling interventions and installations call attention to the architecture in which they are installed and encourage viewers to walk around, atop, and sometimes inside them.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed back in 2014, the artist describes her process as an attempt to “reset the idea of what a painting can be.” As Grosse’s works became larger, with site-specific commissions at Brooklyn’s MetroTech Plaza and Dallas’s Nasher Sculpture Center, she began collaborating with her brother, who works as an engineer.

Speaking about the impact of having a non-art worker as part of her team, Grosse said that she benefitted from her brother’s ability to “connect the theoretical thinking” of the engineering process to the practical aspects of building large-scale works.

Katharina Grosse, <i>Mumbling Mud – Silk Studio</i> (2018) at K11 art museum. Courtesy of Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna, Austria, © 2021 Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Katharina Grosse, Mumbling Mud – Silk Studio (2018) at K11 Art Museum. Courtesy of Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna, Austria, © 2021 Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

“My work is not idea-based, it’s really thought based,” the artist said, describing it as a fluid process that is also physically engaging. In an upcoming installation at the Helsinki Art Museum, Grosse will be on site painting while viewers wander in and out, becoming active participants in the creation process.

In the Helsinki exhibition, which opens June 8, the artist’s work will take over the main exhibition halls—which Grosse hopes will also challenge the hierarchy of media.

“Am I a painter? Am I a sculptor? I don’t know,” Grosse said in the interview. “I’m talking to the world while painting on it.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. Katharina Grosse: Chill Seeping From The Walls Gets Between Us,” opens June 8 at the Helsinki Museum. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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