Katharina Fritsch was born in 1956, in Essen. She first studied history and art history at the University of Münster and, in 1977, transferred to the Art Academy Düsseldorf. There, she was a student of Fritz Schwegler until 1984. In 2001, Fritsch was appointed Professor of Sculpting at the Academy of Fine Arts, Münster.
Fritsch’s sculptures, objects, pictures, and installations play with the tensions between reality and the unreal, between the surreal and the uncanny, between what is and what appears to be. In their blunt sign character and their memorability, the objects – shown in varying medial contexts – indeed evoke parallels to the image world of popular culture, to computer generated icons and picture codes, or to comic-like figures. Simple forms such as crosses, skulls, bottles, umbrellas, or stylized animals make up the basic repertoire of Fritsch’s object and figure constellations. The surfaces tend to be smooth, sometimes velvety, and objects and figures are mostly monochrome or done in starkly contrasting colors. As to their dimensions, they tend to be oversized. »(…) Among the pre-existing pictures, Fritsch chooses those that she herself sees and feels in their plasticity, with a keen eye for detail, and which she actualizes through the specificity of her subjective vision. Fritsch is not interested in individual expressiveness, instead, she is concerned with ›the clarity of things themselves, ‹their essence, what is typical about them« (Kunstforum, 123/1993).
Fritsch’s objects are based on a sculptural development process that reconstructs an artistic vision, but also draws on the industrially produced figural products of everyday life. The artist employs contemporary technologies of production and makes prototypes of polyester, plastic, Plexiglas. Works such as her well-knownTischgesellschaft (Dinner Company) 1988), an installation of male figures on both sides of a long, ornamentally set table, show this in their formalized figuralness and the all-covering black-and-whiteness of the serial figures. They provide the ensemble with an impersonal, an unreal dimension. At the same time, such works appear like sculptural realizations of mediated pictures, like manifest clichés.
In Fritsch’s works, the guidance of the viewer, the directing towards individual or collective memories, imaginations, wishes, or clichés and obsessions, carries special weight. Common objects evolve into formalized groups, accurate constellations or, in specific spatial contexts, into ensembles that are equally simple and mysterious, challenging the viewers’ powers of imagination. Dreams and traumata are evoked, for example, in the work Mann und Maus (Man and Mouse), a constellation of figures done in 1991/92. The work makes the nightmare of Johnann Heinrich Füssli’s picture Nachtmahr (Nightmare) mutate into ambivalent, threatening, comic-like sexual fears. Another example would be Rattenkönig (King of the Rats), done a year later and Fritsch’s first work to be acknowledged by a large audience in the U.S. It shows a group of 16 rats, almost three meters tall, made from black polyester and arranged as a circle or, actually, as a crown. Again, reference is made to the imagination, to obsessive ideas and dream visions.
Yet the sometimes geometrical or also ornamental arrangement of single, serial figures which Fritsch already used in her tower of Madonna figures (Warengestell mit Madonnen (Commodity Rack with Madonnas), 1989), at the same time counters formal qualities of sequentially or serially appearing visions and dreams. Very importantly, the arrangement emphasizes the industrial production of the figures, their formalized and stylized character. Moreover, with the Madonna figures, the artist refers to the production of commodities and directs the gaze to mass-produced devotional objects that evoke religious or spiritual associations only in highly mediated ways. The figure of the Mönch ((Monk) 1997 — 99), done in different versions with different colors, leads to the image, to the idea of a monk and leaves it to the viewer to follow her or his own associations.
Fritsch was the youngest participant of the exhibition »Von hier aus« (»Starting from Here«, 1984). After that, her works were shown in many exhibitions. In 1987, Fritsch presented her Elefant at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum Krefeld, and also participated in »Skulptur Projekte. Münster.« In 1988, her works were exhibited at the Kunsthalle Basel and, in 2002, she represented Germany at the Venice Biennale. In the same year, Tate Modern in London had a comprehensive exhibition of Fritsch’s works.
Katharina Fritsch lives and works in Düsseldorf.
Katharina Fritsch: Ausst.-Kat. Tate Modern, K21, hg. v. I. Blazwick, Ostfildern 2002
Katharina Fritsch: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg 1999
Katharina Fritsch: Ausst.-Kat. Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel / San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1996
Katharina Fritsch 1979 — 1989: Ausst.-Kat. Westfälischer Kunstverein Münster / Portikus, Frankfurt/M. 1989