It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a ... giant blue rooster?!
The soon-to-reopen Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will be home to artist Katharina Fritsch’s much anticipated new royal-blue-colored sculpture “Hahn/Cock,” which will tower over viewers atop a white pedestal, reaching more than 20 feet in the air. This playful tongue-in-cheek critique of the “macho” nature of large-scale sculpture also works within the conceptual framework of Marcel Duchamp, who famously put a urinal in an art gallery and called it art, arguing that the context makes it art more than the art itself. The blue rooster also brings out a certain squeamishness in many people when they try to say the name of the sculpture.
But there is so much more to Fritsch than just that rooster/giant chicken, or however you feel most comfortable referring to it.
Enter “Multiples,” a Fritsch exhibition opening Thursday evening at Walker Art Center. It contains more than 40 smaller-scale objects that the artist has painted in her signature monochrome style, creating a uniformness that strips the objects of their previous presumed meaning, replacing that with a sense of the uncanny. The interior exhibition offers a smart counterpoint to the hulking rooster that will be positioned outdoors. One element that really stands out is Fritsch’s use of single colors, which continually mystifies viewers.
“She is not very forthcoming about the colors that she chooses,” said Walker curatorial assistant Victoria Sung, who oversaw the show with visual arts curator Pavel Pyś. “She says the color or the image come at once. It’s intuitive.”
The exhibition isn’t ordered thematically, but one can grasp at recurring themes. In one section, visitors will notice the beginning of the artist’s engagement with the multiple. While still in art school, Fritsch created “Schwarz-weisses Auto (Black and White Car)” (1979), in which she took a toy car and toy caravan, and painted over them in singular colors.
“You get a sense that she is interested in notions of commercialism, display and circulation of these everyday objects,” says Sung.
The uniform use of color makes it immediately clear what the object is and its function in the world (if it were functional). Its directness grabs a viewer’s attention much like an advertisement, which is purposeful in that Fritsch is also playing with the language of advertising. One of her early pieces on view, in fact, is an advertisement created for a friend’s publication. The ad never ran; instead, Fritsch made it a multiple in and of itself.
“She was really interested in Joseph Beuys, who is someone we [at the Walker] have a long engagement with,” says Pyś. “He was very much aware of democratizing the art object, working against a single, original, expensive artwork, and allowing people to have access to these.”
The multiples span into other themes, as well, such as religious motifs — a bright, blinding-yellow Madonna figure, a purple St. Nicholas, a black-painted St. Catherine. Animals and insects figure in the exhibition, too; an oversized black-painted fly with white wings is the same size as a black-painted mouse, perched on its hind legs. The 1999 work “Hexenhaus und Pilz” (“Witches House and Mushroom”) is a triangular-shaped black-painted house with white roof, and a red-colored mushroom next door. “Geld” (“Money”), from 1988, is a stack of aluminum money reproductions.
Most of the works in this exhibition are owned by the Walker; all but one of the others are on loan from Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. This makes sense, considering the Walker has been working with Fritsch since 1991. The Walker has the largest collection of her multiples in the United States.
But really, all eyes are on the blue rooster (Lol). As she gets it ready to mount, Fritsch has been thinking about the location. Another version of “Hahn/Cock” sits in Trafalgar Square in London. In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, it will be in dialogue with regional considerations.
“Here, she was really interested in the different connotations it would take on in Minneapolis, specifically with myths like Babe the Blue Ox, farming and the Midwestern tradition,” says Sung.
Katharina Fritsch: Multiples
When: May 11-Oct. 15. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 11 a.m.-
5 p.m. Sun.; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Wed.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thu.
Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Admission: $9-$14; free for 17 and younger, and for all Thursday evenings.
Info: 612-375-7622 or walkerart.org.