Though I was initially overwhelmed by the chaos of colors and spheres clustered on the ceiling of the fourth floor of Cobb, eventually I was overtaken by the realization that I was not simply a spectator, but was inside of Katharina Grosse’s exhibit. Atoms Inside Balloons extends beyond most installations. It encompasses its observers by reaching above their heads covering the ceiling and below their feet on the tiled floor.
Grosse used a compressed air spray gun and acrylic paint to cover the walls, ceiling, and floor of the exhibit, creating an exciting and almost unsettling mesh of colors that complicate the space they inhabit. In the center of the room, a collection of large spheres about four feet in diameter are crowded together, resembling a cluster of grapes. Each is covered, like the walls, in layers of spray paint. They eclipse each other, producing both complexity of contrast between the varying hues on individual surfaces and gradations of light created by shadow. While the outer edges of the room are void of balloons, they form, in a sense, a larger balloon covered itself by the application of spray paint and enclosing the area as though the viewers were inside a bubble. The effect is that one feels like part of the installation, the observer and his or her reaction to the work being equally important elements in the space.
The installation’s entire composition is such that it would be impossible to experience the effects of the same combination of shapes and colors from any two locations in the room. One could either stand in the relative darkness produced by the shadow of two overlapping balloons, or in the free space illuminated by the windows surrounding three sides of the room. No position is the same as another, and nowhere is the view visually pacifying. Although the complication of color prevents a natural serenity because there are so many unique situations within the same room, there is the potential for every viewer to discover a spot that intrigues, resonates with, or excites the sentiments.
Despite the dramatic color contrast and the range of shadow, I felt that the fluorescent lighting detracted from the intensity of the hues by giving them a bluish artificial glow. Although this was an element of the installation that Grosse had no power to gauge, I think more natural light would have complemented the paint she used, lessening their dulled appearance. The type of paint she used also seemed to inhibit the vibrancy of the colors. All of her yellows were the same, as were all her violets, and they all had the appearance of coming directly from a can as opposed to a unique combination. I was reminded of the chalky tempera paintings I did in elementary school, upon which blends of colors turned to a muddled brown when I tried to combine them. Despite my reaction to the quality of pigment used, they were able to accomplish a juvenile excitement and the carefree immediacy of childish sentiments.
The creation of an artistic space distinguishes this exhibit from others. Grosse’s technique can neither be criticized nor praised for an exceptional talent in rendering nor in the ability to portray realistic figures. Rather, it should be recognized for its ability to relocate every viewer who enters the room. The area she designed is provocative in its complete departure from the world in which we are accustomed to living. There will undoubtedly be a unique emotional state inspired in each observer. In this regard, Grosse’s installation piece was an overall success because it exhibited the evocative nature of a substantial work of art.