Updated: Jan 12, 2021
My parents always sought out ways to involve my sister and I in the arts when we were younger. I had visited countless museums and galleries in my childhood, yet a particular experience that has stuck with me is a day-long trip with my family to MASS MoCA. I was only fourteen at the time, but the experience is one that strongly influences my aesthetic sensibilities today.
Located in the Northwest corner of Massachusetts, the museum is a converted factory campus. The industrial history of this architecture is evident by red brick facades, complex arrangements of bridges and covered walkways, and woven systems of chrome ducts throughout the buildings
However, within this industrial architecture existed a very different atmosphere. Large warehouse spaces were converted into a series of contemporary art installations, uninhibited by the usual constraints of a gallery. At the time, Katherina Grosse’s One Floor Up More Highly installation inhabited one of these expansive warehouses.
Two figures give size reference to Katharina Grosse’s installation at MASS MoCA
Entering her installation, I felt as if I had stepped foot into an alien landscape – saturated with color and enormous, white forms. These forms resembled stacked shards of icebergs; their shape straddling the line between organic and heavily manufactured. They felt tectonic in size and shape, functioning as metaphorical canvases for an organized mess of vibrant paint and piles of pure pigment.
Panoramic view of Grosse’s ‘One Floor Up More Highly’
My fourteen-year-old self felt comfortably insignificant and oddly removed from reality within this invented landscape. The size, the foreign forms, and uncanny colors left a peculiar impression on me, something I could not put into words at the time. However, looking back on this experience seven years later, with an upcoming installation of my own, I have begun to better-understand this value of this poignant experience.
Installation view of Grosse’s ‘One Floor Up More Highly’ at MASS MoCA
I first realized that art does not need to exist within the confines of a frame, and does not need to be conceived on a woven, white canvas. I realized art doesn’t even need to exist within the flat white walls of a gallery. Art can break these boundaries in unusual and ingenious ways, allowing viewers to become physically, emotionally, and maybe even spiritually immersed in a piece.
Grosse’s installation was commenting on this notion of breaking beyond the cultural standard of white walls and canvas. Her white iceberg-like forms seem to allude to the metaphorical fracturing of these confines. Her use of color is expansive: paint and pigments exploding across the space, altering a viewer’s traditional experience of flat and contained color.
“Color is the most magical surface changer. It doesn’t have the obligation to be in a certain space. Color can appear anywhere.” – Katharina Grosse
Installation view of One Floor More Highly at Mass MoCA
My younger self was comprehending one of the essential values of art: to make an impact, maybe psychological or even spiritual, and to cause others to question their tightly-held standards and perceptions of the world. Art doesn’t necessarily need to be enormous, alien, electric and imposing like Grosse’s – yet this is what it took to break through to me at the time.
Grosse painting her enormous Styrofoam forms with an industrial spray gun.
Looking forward to my first show, I have deconstructed a personal perception of the natural world, one that is widely held by the majority of people. I am focusing on the rigid standards of organization that structure our knowledge of nature. Like Grosse’s installation, my work is sometimes large and imposing, sometimes overly-saturated, and always a fractured system of organized chaos. The spiritual or psychological notion I hope to expose through my art is the link, or lack thereof, between humans and nature.