• Katharina Fritsch, Foto Vorsehungkloster (Photo Providence Monastery), 2008, oil-based ink and acrylic on silk-screened plastic panel, 9' 2 1/4“ x 13' 1 1/2”.

    Katharina Fritsch, Foto Vorsehungkloster (Photo Providence Monastery), 2008, oil-based ink and acrylic on silk-screened plastic panel, 9' 2 1/4“ x 13' 1 1/2”.

    Katharina Fritsch

    Deichtorhallen Hamburg
    Deichtorstrasse 1 + 2
    November 6, 2009–February 7, 2010

    Kunsthaus Zurich
    Heimplatz 1
    June 3–August 30, 2009

    Curated by Bice Curiger

    IMAGINE SOL LEWITT OR DONALD JUDD in love with old fairy tales, haunted not only by the formal archetypes of geometry but also by the iconography of piety, commerce, and everyday life in their most generic aspects. The resulting combination—as improbable, or as beautiful, as the encounter, so dear to Lautréamont, of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table—might have resembled the work of Katharina Fritsch (born in 1956 in Essen, Germany). Driven by a search for maximum visual impact, and fabricated with an obsessive perfectionism, her various productions—small or large, two- or three-dimensional—must surely count among the most memorable of the past three decades, over the course of which they have been launched into the world in measured doses.

    “Many of my sculptures first exist as an immaterial picture that suddenly emerges in my mind’s eye. It’s like a vision, a picture that just appears. I think in pictures,” Fritsch declared in a 2001 interview with curator Susanne Bieber. The artist’s mimetic objects correspond to this conception (Platonic, some would say) of the image as a virtual and sudden totality. Whoever finds herself confronted with Rattenkönig (Rat-King), 1991–93, which may be Fritsch’s masterpiece—or, to take two examples of works included in this exhibition, Elefant, 1987, a green, life-size model of an elephant, or Tischgesellschaft (Company at Table), 1988, thirty-two anonymous-looking male figures seated at a long table in a scene that always reminds me of the men hiding in the forest in the Grimm fairy tale “The Twelve Brothers”—can attest to the durable impression Fritsch’s apparitions make on their spectators. One might describe her endeavor as the pursuit of “simple forms,” to borrow the title of a 1930 study (Einfache Formen) by historian of art and literature André Jolles, who deploys the phrase in his analysis of discursive formations such as legends, proverbs, riddles, jokes, and—indeed—fairy tales. Fritsch offers a highly elaborate visual equivalent of these linguistic or literary forms, which in her work are ceaselessly reinvented, transformed, retransmitted.

    A further aspect of her oeuvre is perhaps most evident in Museum, Modell 1:10 (Museum, 1:10 Model), 1995, presented in the German pavilion of that year’s Venice Biennale. In making this gigantic model of an octagonal building in the middle of a clearing in a forest of plastic trees, Fritsch was inspired by both Vierzehnheiligen, Balthasar Neumann’s famous Baroque church near Bamberg, Germany, and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field. If the full-scale construction of the project is lamentably still pending, the model nevertheless constitutes, as an emblem of a solitary utopia, one of the most successful and enigmatic manifestations of the idea of sculpture as place.

    With some eighty works, including twenty new pieces, this retrospective offers an exceptional chance to take stock of Fritsch’s crucial contribution to contemporary art. The show includes several of the artist’s series of screenprinted enlargements of postcards, through which she has since 2001 been investigating the banality of the socially shared souvenir. In her reproductions of tourist attractions and commonplace scenes, such souvenirs emerge as empty receptacles that each of us invests with meaning corresponding to the measure of personal history they call up. Here again, the quest for a degree zero of the image that would liberate the capacity for imaginative projection in all of us—a paradoxical, even impossible kind of stereotype, one characterized by absolute singularity—marks Fritsch’s artistic path.