Magazine article The Spectator

Eerily Enigmatic

Magazine article The Spectator

Eerily Enigmatic

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 1

Katharina Fritsch

(Tate Modern, till 9 December)

Eerily enigmatic

Martin Gayford

In 1987 the citizens of Munster, a city in Westphalia, were astounded and scandalised by a strange, perhaps blasphemous manifestation in the middle of their town. In the pedestrian precinct there appeared a six-foot-high statue of the Madonna. Nothing surprising in that - especially as Munster is a devoutly Roman Catholic place except that the statue was bright yellow and made of plastic. It was in fact a work by the contemporary artist Katharina Fritsch, more of whose strange and sometimes fascinating pieces are currently to be seen at Tate Modern.

In the same year as the Madonna, this time for an art gallery, Fritsch came up with a life-size elephant on an oval stand. Again, there was nothing all that unusual about it - it was cast from moulds she discovered in Bonn's natural history museum - except for the fact that it was bright green. In many respects, the green elephant and the yellow Madonna are like cheap souvenirs or toys; but on the other hand they have an unnerving presence. The effect is even stronger in the case of Fritsch's statues of human figures - the 'Monk', the 'Doctor', and the 'Dealer' (whom she collectively refers to as the three bad guys). The 'Monk', clad as one might expect in a habit, is painted in an intense black which seems to absorb the surrounding light. The 'Dealer' - a sleazy-looking individual with a pony-tail who might trade either in art or in dangerous drugs - is an equally deep, matt red. The 'Doctor', a skeleton, is white. They could be manifestations from popular fiction - ghost stories, for example, perhaps crime in the case of the 'Dealer' who looks as if he might figure in a contemporary whodunnit - or even cartoons. `Ghost and Pool of Blood' consists of a real cliche of a white-sheeted spectre accompanied by a translucent plastic puddle of gore.

In `Man and Mouse', a huge black rodent stands on the bed of a sleeping man. Another celebrated Fritsch piece - represented in this show by only a miniature version - represents a rat-king, that is a group of rats whose tails have become so inextricably knotted that they have to function as a single, complex creature. Not all her work takes the form of human or animal figures, but many of the most powerful pieces in the show do.

There is a touch of pop art about Fritsch's work, and more than a smidgen of surrealism, just as there is an eerie quality about it, and also a tacky one. `Company at Table', the largest piece in the show, is made up of numerous identical male figures seated at a long table with a brightly patterned tablecloth (in fact all the male figures, in this and other works, are cast from a single model named Frank). …

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