In Fort Tilden, a strip of New York coast that was battered by Hurricane Sandy nearly four years ago, an abandoned building appears to be melting into the beach. Streaks of red and white paint cover the building's interior and exterior walls, roof, and chimneys, and spill out onto the ground, as if the structure is slowly disappearing into a swirling pool of color. Once a military aquatics building, the condemned site is now host to the latest public installation by German artist Katharina Grosse, commissioned by MoMA PS1.
Part of Rockaway!, an ongoing exhibition series that brings awareness to an area still recovering from the deadly storm that hit in 2012, Grosse's installation occupies the building in its final months before it's razed in the Rockaway recovery effort. "It's a farewell celebration," MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach says at the installation's preview. "The building is just glowing. It's the signal of something new starting in the Rockaways."
As Biesenbach stands in front of the installation, he acknowledges how fragile the area is. A longtime Rockaway resident, he notes that, before Sandy, the building was surrounded by sand dunes. Now, the beach is just several yards away, the building completely exposed.
With this abrupt and violent change to the structure's setting in mind, Grosse realized as she worked that she wanted the building to, in a sense, become part of the sweeping landscape surrounding it. "I had underestimated the vast spatial components—the sky, the sea, the beach," she tells Sweet. "You could walk far off and, all of a sudden, the little red house that I had made into a very dense painting was not connecting with the environment anymore." So, three days into her seven-day painting process, she rethought the image of the project, layering more red, magenta, and white onto the walls and the ground leading toward the ocean.
Tour Grosse's stunning takeover of an abandoned site on a Ft. Tilden beach.
In this way, Grosse creates a playful twist on a traditional landscape painting. "I'm very interested in the theatricality of showing painting," she says. "I'm fascinated by making a spectacle, of making the work totally exposed to the location it's in." It's almost as if the painting has flown through the air and has landed on the structure, she says.
But the work is not just about landscape. It's also about the viewers' relationship to their environment. Bringing the arts out to an area in recovery gives a whole new context to our efforts to preserve nature. "Painting is about possibility," Grosse says. "I want it to be an important visual part of our lives, really inscribed into the body of our environment." Mission accomplished.
Rockaway! will be on view through November 2016. To learn more about this innovative project, see momaps1.org.