Katharina Fritsch’s sculpture often begins with an archetypal image, which she subverts with shifts in scale and color. Madonnenfigur / Madonna (1987) is based on a small statuette of the Virgin Mary that Fritsch enlarged to her own height and painted a vibrant yellow. Other sculptures depict life-size figures as different characters and types, all male, including a chef, a giant, and an art dealer. But Fritsch is perhaps best known for her uncanny animal sculptures. Rattenkönig / Rat-King
(1991–93) is a circle of two dozen gigantic rats, each nearly ten feet tall, with their tails tied in a massive knot at the center. Art historian Jean-Pierre Criqui has said of Fritsch’s animal sculptures, “The way the artist uses them, but also the situations in which she places them, gives them ambiguous powers at the intersection of several tendencies: humanity’s ancestral fears and superstitions, as expressed, for example, in tales and legends; the intensities of totemic thought and of its images; and the uncanny and Freudian dream study.”
Typically each work is molded by hand, then cast in plaster, reworked, and then cast again in polyester. The polyester form is finished with a matte paint, which absorbs light, giving the sculpture’s surface a disorienting immaterial quality. “My sculptures can never be totally grasped, like a picture that has something unresolved about it,” Fritsch has explained. “They stay in your head like an enigma. That’s how life seems to me and that’s how I depict it.”
Katharina Fritsch (b. 1956) lives and works in Düsseldorf. She represented Germany at the 1995 Venice Biennale and has had one-person exhibitions at museums across Europe and the United States, including the Kunstmuseum Basel, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, Tate Modern in London, and K21 in Düsseldorf. In 2009 her work was the subject of a retrospective at Kunsthaus Zürich and the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. In 2013 she created Hahn / Cock, an enormous sculpture of a bright blue rooster, for London’s Trafalgar Square. Versions of the work are now on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.