Walking through the installation room of Wunder-Block, a new exhibition by Katharina Grosse, is an instant lesson in size perception. I feel like I've been zapped by a ray gun, transformed and shape-shifted into an ant harvesting dust on a busy MAC cosmetics counter.
Mountains of pigments -- charged-up royal blue, an illuminated algae green, yellow, gold, purple, burgundy, red, brown and any other imaginable wavelength of reflected color -- are piled throughout, creating an exploratory martian world within the Nasher Sculpture Center's subterranean gallery. Along the room's north and south walls, oversized canvases face inward, smoothly wiped with these same strips of tone, as though some god had mindlessly run an acrylic-soaked paintbrush across them, twisting off excess moisture.
What happened here, in this alter-universe diorama? Did a psychedelic comet crash? Has a painting simply animated, crawled out and inhabited this room? Did I drop acid and wind up in a massive snow-globe again? Or is this what the world could look like if we all stepped back, unfocused and allowed complete immersion in a single moment, before the spectrum settles?
For those answers, you'll need to ask Wunder-Block's creator, Katharina Grosse.
"I'm fascinated by the idea that a painting can be in space anywhere," says Grosse. The German artists is tall, blonde, lean and much cleaner than she was a few days ago, when I saw her canvasing the enclosure with her spray can. "It can be on your shoulder; it can be on your dress; it can be on the floor and the wall at the same time: It can travel through the volume, and that's what I was doing here."
It's a bit like time travel, this method.
The mounds space out along a path, notating distance as time, but in this unfamiliar scale we can't gauge it as minutes, seconds or even really understand whether we're moving forward or backward through it. It's disorienting. Something Grosse likens to the mishmash scale of seeing Cesar's Palace from the other side of Las Vegas.
"You see the hotel and think, 'Oh, that's a five-minute walk,'" she says through her tiny smile. "Then, it's 45 minutes, because what you see as the 'windows' are actually whole floors."
I stop frequently. I peek behind and under things. I move curiously across these dunes like a rover gathering data -- attempting to pick it apart, then graph it back together.
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By bending standards of size and distance, Grosse hopes to make those interacting with the work approach it from a full spectrum of viewpoints. It's an enriched philosophy loaded with beneficial outcomes and laced with references, extending both to art and life. Like master Japanese landscape designers, Grosse has built a fully tactile experience that -- aside from scent, which remains sterile -- triggers a new sensory encounter with every bend, twist or crunching footstep.
But in Wonder-Block, we don't see distant bridges, hear leaves rustling or run our fingers across tender bark in bloom. Instead we're placed in a hyper-abstract, expressionist version of a world where muted pastels have exploded in bold, brilliant caffeination.
As you move through, exploring these tonal shades as they fluctuate in light or shadow, you're training your neural patterns to review life's other situations in a similar fashion. This artful exercise in contemplative conditioning points out that nothing in this room exists as two purely unaltered shades or opinions. But if you mine your way around this material heap, revisiting piles from all possible angles, you will discover a small mountain of amethyst, emboldened by a generous umph of atomic tangerine, swept up in a tide of aureolin. It's this organic matter's inability to be tidily classified that makes our journey through it so unpredictably captivating.
Katharina Grosse: Wunderblock continues through September 1 at the Nasher.