ROCKAWAY PENINSULA, NEW YORK, USA
MoMA PS1’s Rockaway! series
In 2016, MoMA PS1 invited Katharina Grosse to transform an abandoned military building at Fort Tilden in the Gateway National Recreation Are on the Rockaway Peninsula, New York, into an artwork using her technique of spraying brightly colored paint directly onto the structure.
This work is a feature presentation in MoMA PS1’s ongoing summer series of public art projects and events celebrating the resurgence of the Rockaways since the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (Patti Smith, Adrián Villar Rojas, and Janet Cardiff are among the artists who have been involved in previous years.) Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and chief curator-at-large of the Museum of Modern Art (and part-time Rockaway resident), initiated the series. In conversation it is immediately apparent how deeply he cares about the Rockaways, where he led MoMA PS1 staff in relief efforts right after the storm hit.
Grosse’s work is installed in a former aquatics building for soldiers stationed at Fort Tilden and their families. Built in 1917, the fort has fallen into disrepair since it was decommissioned in 1974 and absorbed into the Gateway National Recreation Area. Hurricane Sandy walloped the aquatics center, leaving it structurally unsound. It is slated for demolition later this year. Many of Grosse’s painting installations have been temporary, which puts her in the unusual situation of a painter of considerable stature whose major works no longer exist. In this case, Grosse has revitalized a derelict building on the fraught border between ocean and land—a stark reminder of both Sandy’s destruction and the threat of climate change looming over New York City—shortly before its destruction.
The building’s façade, roof, and interior rooms now pulsate with broad streaks, curving shapes, and swirls in varying shades of red, bright white, and magenta. These vivid colors spread outside, where they seem to jet across the sand. While this outdoor section required careful planning and laborious execution, it evokes the chance forms of windswept sand and ocean spray. It’s a good idea to view Grosse’s installation from multiple vantage points, from up close but also from afar, especially from the edge of the ocean. From the shore it becomes clear that this is Grosse’s abstracted version of a spectacular Rockaway sunset. She transmuted the aerial splendor that happens way out there above the ocean into something right here on the land. Her installation also suggests waves crashing ashore and lashing at buildings—even the tumultuous waves from Sandy that caused so much harm—but her fiery colors look festive as well as threatening. They signal fear but also buoyancy and resolve.
© Images Pablo Enriquez
© 2020 Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn