Knot

Katharina Fritsch, German, born 1956

Date:
1993

Medium:
Plaster, iron, pigment

Dimensions:
54 x 54 inches (137.2 x 137.2 cm)

Copyright:
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1996-70-1

Credit Line:
Gift (by exchange) of R. Sturgis and Marion B. F. Ingersoll, 1996

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Label:
In Knot, Katharina Fritsch applies the neutral elements of symmetry, precision, and scale to a decidedly disturbing vision. The horizontal ridges that line the swelling strands of the form hint at the original identity of this piece: a knot formed by a tangle of long rats' tails, a nightmarish phenomenon known in northern European folklore as a Rat-King. As the rats enmeshed in the Rat-King struggle to pull away to escape, they only tighten the knot that spells communal death. Knot's elegant form commands the space around it with uncanny authority, yet at the same time remains freighted with the eeriness of its origins.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Katharina Fritsch divides her work into what she half-jokingly calls "good" and "bad" pieces. She refers not to their quality but to the prevailing forces of innocence or darkness. Knot certainly belongs to the latter category, not only because of its jet-black color but because of the intense starkness that emanates from the perfection of its densely compact form. The formal beauty of Fritsch's archetypal knot—in use since ancient times—seems at odds with its invisible power: the sense is less that of a skillful sailor's knot than that of a "knotted" stomach or a handkerchief knotted in the sweaty hands of a person anxiously awaiting bad news. Fritsch's training at the Düsseldorf Academy in the late 1970s led her and her fellow students to an artistic style of clarity and exactitude. Particular to Fritsch is the disturbing vision to which she applies the neutral elements of symmetry, precision, and scale.

    Close inspection of the sculpture's surface, which is composed of easily marred black matte pigment, reveals incised horizontal ridges that line the swelling strands of the knot. The ridges hint at the original identity of the piece: a knot that is formed by a tangle of long rat tails, a nightmarish phenomenon known in northern European folklore as the Rat-King. As the rats enmeshed in a Rat-King struggle and pull away to escape, they only tighten the knot that spells communal death. This sculpture was created as part of the Rat-King that Fritsch made for the Dia Center for the Arts in New York in 1993, an installation of sixteen 9-foot-tall black rats facing outward in a circle, almost hiding the knot at the center. Fritsch later excerpted the knot as an independent sculpture. Standing alone in a space it commands with uncanny authority, Knot is newly and richly open, although its elegant form remains freighted with the eeriness of its beginnings. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 148.