All posts in “Katharina Fritsch”

Object of the Week: Mann und Maus

As you’re pondering your Halloween costume this year and watching politicians locked in a game of cat and mouse, you may want to stop by SAM for a bit of inspiration. Installed in Big Picture: Art after 1945 is Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus (Man and Mouse). An enormous mouse towers like a dark specter over a sleeping figure of a man, who is as white as his downy bed. The man seems undisturbed while the animal appears alert and ready to pounce. A bizarre mirage? A nightmarish vision? Or, a secret story of affection? It all depends on your point of view.

When the German artist Katharina Fritsch made this sculpture in 1991/1992, she was working in the context of the recent fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the beginning of a rejoinder of long-divided East and West Germany. Following World War II, allied forces divided the country—the East fell under Russian control, the western portions under that of the United States, Britain, and France. The division into East and West became the fault line of the so-called Iron Curtain. Given the extreme ideological differences on either side of that border, reunification was an unexpected and momentous event, with enormous new social and economic challenges. Fritsch was born and raised in West Germany and grew up during the post-war years. Artistically, Fritsch came into her own in the 1980s, part of an artistic and cultural cohort skeptical and ironic vis-à-vis government and symbols of power. Characteristic of Fritsch is the manipulation of scale that renders the most ordinary domestic animals and objects uncanny or strangely surreal. Mann und Maus makes a nice bookend to another celebrated work by the artist called the Rat King—a circle of sixteen rats, their tails tied in a knot and facing outward in what looks like a defensive military formation. The fact that each rat is 12-feet tall, however, turns the tables and puts us, as viewers circling that formation, in a rather uncomfortable defensive position. Scale remains a key ingredient in the theatrical staging of power relationships, a timeless topic that the artist leaves up to the viewer to interpret. For English-speaking audiences, the title of our work, Mann und Maus, will bring to mind John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men, a story worth rereading in view of a global surge in migration and displacement.

– Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Image: Mann und Maus, 1991-92, Katharina Fritsch, polyester resin and paint, 90 1/2 x 51 1/2 x 94 1/2in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.118 © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
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Docents Defined: Nhi Nguyen

Are you interested in becoming more intimate with SAM’s collection? Our docents receive training on the artwork from all over the world hanging in our galleries and get to share their love and knowledge with a diverse range of visitors. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an educator or well versed in art history, new docents start training in fall 2017! SAM docents come from many different backgrounds with an incredible range of experience. Having a group of docents that each bring their unique perspective to SAM is how we offer engaging and informational tours. Find out about Nhi Nguyen, just one of our many docents who volunteers their time at the museum. Maybe being a docent appeals to you? Apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through July 12.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you become a docent?

Nhi Nguyen: I’ve always had a love for art, but didn’t know anything about it. My degrees are in social work, psychology, and math, and I work in public policy! When I moved home to Seattle after a 3-year stint in DC, I was looking for a way to reconnect to the Seattle community, make some friends, learn something new, and have fun along the way. The docent program was a perfect fit!

What’s the best part of being a docent? 

I love the constant learning. SAM does a great job of training its docents on its permanent collections as well as on the excellent special exhibitions that come through the museum. I’ve learned about many types of art, from ancient aboriginal to abstract expressionism. I have also been able to practice my presentation skills in relaying the most interesting stories about this art to the public. These skills have helped me in my professional life as well.

What work of art is your favorite to tour?

My favorite piece currently on view is Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus. It’s great to see initial reactions to this piece, as it can appear funny and playful. Kids especially like this one. However, closer observations can reveal a darker meaning, depending on you and your life experiences.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

When I first began touring, I tried to make a connection between several works of art that dealt with alternative realities with a South Park episode I had just watched, called “Imaginationland.” In the episode, the kids of South Park get taken to a land of their imagination, where Mickey Mouse, Santa, and Jesus live. Conflict arises when the bad parts of Imaginationland appear, including the Joker, Freddy Krueger, and Satan, and war ensues. While I thought it was a pretty funny and culturally relevant comparison, no one on the tour had even heard of the show! After some explanation of the story and premise, it ended up working out. I even got some people to say they would check the show out. Who knew that an art tour would help recruit more South Park fans!

What advice do you have for people considering applying to the docent program? 

While it’s a bigger time commitment than other volunteer positions at SAM, being a docent is extremely rewarding. Not only do you get the personal benefit of learning about art for free, but you also become a part of a community that supports one another and cares about helping the public learn and reflect on life through art.

– Kelsey Donahue, Museum Educator, School & Educator Programs

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Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Kittie McAllister

Kittie (known as Katie by her family) grew up on a beautiful farm in Carnation, Washington, riding horses and exploring the woods with her dog. As part of her Associate of Arts and Sciences Degree at Bellevue College, she excelled in hand-drawn animation classes (and was published in her mentor Tony White’s book, How to Make Animated Films) but decided she wanted to be an oil painter. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Studio Art from Central Washington University in 2016, where she discovered her love of making three-dimensional objects and using her painting skills to give them sophisticated surface qualities. Working as a Visitor Services Officer in the galleries of the Seattle Art Museum keeps her engaged in her greatest interest—art history.

SAM: Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series opened January 21 and is running until April 23. What is your favorite piece in this series?

McAllister: Every painting in The Migration Series is full of earth tones, so Panel 5 struck me for its vibrant colors and total absence of browns. A black locomotive speeding through the deep blue night, with its yellow bell swinging in the force of the wind and light penetrating the darkness ahead, gleams like an emblem of hope for the migrants leaving deplorable living situations behind. The yellow paint of the bell is even brighter than the bold yellow seen throughout the series, perhaps emphasizing it as a symbol of liberty and progress.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

The huge Mann und Maus sculpture by Katharina Fritsch, for the BIG reactions it always gets! I often hear adults say that waking up to giant vermin on their bed is their worst nightmare, while children perceive the “mousy” as cute and funny; one child thought he got so big from eating too much cheese! I see dark symbolism in the piece and feel a little uneasy when posted in its imposing presence.

Who is your favorite artist?

As I delved deeper into John Lennon’s music, I became curious about the woman he wrote such desperate love songs about, and I discovered the avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. Her sculptures and poems are minimalistic and give simple commands to the viewer—the act of physically, or mentally, carrying out those actions focuses your cognizance in the moment. A brief writing example of Yoko’s:

LIGHTING PIECE

Light a match and watch till it goes out.

1955 autumn

One of my favorite works is a white ladder that, when you climb to the top and look through a magnifying glass hanging by a delicate chain, you can find the tiny word, “Yes” written on the white ceiling. John Lennon fell in love with Yoko when he felt refreshed by her positive message in this interactive art piece.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Make a day of it! I always recommend starting back in time on the fourth floor with our most ancient art objects, and working your way back to the present with our more contemporary works on the third floor. SAM celebrates diversity and is a safe space to be yourself and unabashedly explore the eccentric world of art.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Recently I had a painting in the Erotica exhibition on Capitol Hill for Second Thursday Art Walk—it was such a hoot! Now that I’m finished with school I have time to get back into my guitar and I love spending lazy days just journaling. My shorthaired black cat, Tobias Funke, always demands my attention, and I’m simply enjoying my time with friends and family now that I’m back in Seattle. I’m always making little plans and schemes for my creative notions—working at Seattle Art Museum keeps my creativity fueled!

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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