Living sculpture

German artist Katharina Fritsch receives the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement
by Francesco Santaniello

Katharina Fritsch, together with Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, receives the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 59. International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale – The Milk of Dreams curated by Cecilia Alemani. The German artist, already a guest of the Biennale in 1995, 1999 and 2011, receives this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her immense contribution to the field of contemporary art and sculpture in particular.

Fritsch’s contribution to the field of contemporary art, especially sculpture, has been incomparable. She creates figurative works that are both hyperrealistic and fanciful: copies of objects, animals, and people, faithfully rendered in every detail, but transformed into uncanny apparitions (Cecilia Alemani)

Katharina Fritsch started her research in the post-modern climate marked by the return to the image and the revival of certain aspects of the avant-garde, proposing a Neo-pop reflection on objects and working on the repetition and manipulation of proportions. By the end of the 70’s through the 80’s she created meticulous mostly large-scale reproductions of common items (vases, candlesticks, kitsch statuettes of saints and madonnas) or animals (such as the Elephant, now in the Central Pavilion at the Giardini) in bright monochrome colors and displayed in different formal combinations (isolated, in series or overlapping to form high columns). With Tischgesellschaft (Company at Table, 1988), she experiments a mix of narration and communication: thirty-two mannequins depicting men dressed in black are sitting at a long table facing each other, with their hands resting on a red and white tablecloth while waiting for a meal that will never be served. Since then the artist has shown a penchant for the monumental creating as well some complex installations such as the model of an ideal museum exhibited in the German Pavilion at the 1995 Biennale.

Katharina Fritsch, Elephant

Katharina Fritsch’s iconic and disrupting sculptures stand out to the visitors’ attention not only for the abnormal sizes of their subjects and their very bright colours, but above all for a sort of short circuit they trigger at a sensory-intellectual-mnemonic perception level. Her works act therefore like a mechanism capable of triggering a destabilization of certainties and habits which have been acquired through experience or culture. I am sure that many of the Venice Biennale visitors, both those visiting it for professional interest and those visiting it just out of curiosity, remember Rattenkönig (1991-’93), exhibited at the Biennale in 1999 curated by Harald Szeemann. Who has not felt observed as a sort of guinea pig by giant mice crouched in a circle with their tails knotted together? On the other hand someone else did certainly get into the part of The Pied Piper.
Katharina Fritsch’s sculpture is visionary, disquieting, although mitigated by an icy irony and amplified by surreal echoes evoking dreamlike visions, childhood memories or ancestral fears. It has come to the attention of critics and international audience because it reflects some aspects of our problematic present as shown by her installation Stilleben at the 2011 Biennale, or by her Hahn/Cock (a deep blue almost five meters high statue of a domestic courtyard cockerel) she placed on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square in summer 2013.