Fritsch, Katharina
German, born 1956
Monk
1997–99

Polyester and paint
193 x 58.4 x 43.1 cm (76 x 23 x 17 in.)
Anstiss and Ronald Krueck Fund for Contemporary Art, 2000.49

The work of Katharina Fritsch has been described as "art that goes bump in the night." An encounter with her imagery, whether a single sculpture such as Monk or group of assembled objects, can be startling and disturbing.

Scale, surface, color, and placement in space play a role in the transformation of Fritsch’s objects. In Monk, she employed the lone figure of a Franciscan friar. His stiff posture and closed eyes signal that he is engaged in a moment of meditation. The empty gallery space around him is like a monastery cell, and the viewer’s presence in it becomes an invasion of his private contemplation. His six-foot, three-inch height and uniform black surface make him appear formidable rather than meek. Yet a tension exists between the spiritual goodness associated with monks and the evil associated with the color black.

In the art of Fritsch’s native Germany, the monk has often been used to personify the artist in society. Wilhelm Wackenroder’s 1797 essay Effusions from the Heart of an Art-Loving Monk likened the artist to a priest who communicates with God through his work. In Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Monk by the Sea (1809–10; Berlin Galerie der Romantic), the act of observing nature is compared to a spiritual experience. Fritsch’s monk can be seen as part of this tradition. If he is an artist in this century, then the white museum walls are his space of contemplation. Fritsch's sculpture follows a resurgence of international attention to contemporary German art dating from the late 1970s, when Neo-Expressionist painting probed Germany's past with emotionally charged, representational images.