Revisiting Grid Structure at the Sharjah Museum

Alois Kronschlaeger, Grid Structure #1, 2014. Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut. Basswood, calligraphy ink, black and silver metallic spray paint, aluminum mesh, black plexiglass, fluorescent lighting, black sand and gravel. Photo by Marc Lins.

In 2014 Alois Kronschlaeger developed a site-specific installation for Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing, an exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut in which each of five Beijing- based artists were paired with five New York-based artists, bringing together their respective artistic practices and producing a rich cross-cultural exchange. The multimedia, multi-scale works that resulted from these collaborations addressed the complicated implications of creating art in an increasingly globalized, socialized, and politicized context. For the project, Kronschlaeger was paired with the Chinese paper sculptor Lin Yan, who designed a rice paper installation in the museum’s entrance rotunda; Kronschlaeger’s work for the exhibition, Grid Structure #1, was installed in a three-stories-high circular atrium.

Twenty-two cubes made up of 6,500 basswood sticks were stacked—and each of 24,000 sides of the wooden sticks individually stained—to create Grid Structure #1, a larger-than-life sculpture that towered eighteen feet high, echoing the vertical axis of the atrium. If the ambitious verticality of the work was the viewer’s most urgent observation, no less daunting was the sculpture’s domain of horizontal space. Several cubes had not been stacked comfortably on top of the structure but rather placed notably outside its limits, and appear to be teetering on an edge; still others were intercepted by wire mesh intrusions that warp and disrupt the calculated coordinates of the grid.

With its harmonic proportions and rigorous logic, the grid has nourished and shaped artistic production from da Vinci to de Stijl, but it is without a doubt especially emblematic of modern times: “No form within the whole of modern aesthetic production has sustained itself so relentlessly while at the same time being so impervious to change,” affirmed Rosalind Krauss in 1979. Given the grid’s universality and timeless relevance, it is not entirely surprising that Kronschlaeger has chosen to revisit Grid Structure #1 on the occasion of the 19th annual Islamic Arts Festival organized by the Sharjah Museum in the United Arab Emirates.

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Digital renderings of Alois Kronschlaeger’s installation for the Sharjah Museum

For this sweeping exhibition that last year featured three hundred works by thirty-six artists from seventeen countries, Kronschlaeger was invited to create a variation of Grid Structure. This time, the installation won’t be responding to the cylindrical confines of an atrium but to the all-encompassing environment of an allocated space in the museum gallery. Where the Bruce Museum intervention had only begun to examine Grid Structure‘s horizontal potential, this design offers an opportunity to fully exploit it.

In his decision to arrange the multichromatic cubes in a horizontal rather than a vertical layout, Kronschlaeger is responding to an ongoing concern for site-specificity that persists in his artistic practice. The tunneled space of the Bruce Museum atrium was particularly unique, and called for an installation that would make visitors hyper-aware of their architectural surroundings. The Sharjah Museum work, in contrast, was not conceived with such specifications in mind. However, there is more to this plan than an adaptation to a new and distinct installation space. In Kronschlaeger’s vision for this version of Grid Structure, four separate constellations of stacked gridded cubes generate a dynamic urban sprawl contained within the exhibition space. Unlike the Bruce Museum work, where each cube was stacked solely in service of the grander vertical structure, each cluster of towers in the Sharjah Museum seems to retain a certain autonomy. Much like the diverse edifices that form the foundation of a bustling metropolis, Kronschlaeger’s structures will be interrelated but independent.

Beyond the urban evocations of the new design, there is also a shift in the way the public will interact with the work. At the Bruce Museum, the viewer’s confrontation was vertical: one could walk around the structure, or look up as the stacked cubes receded into the interminable depth of the atrium. The Sharjah Museum version will allow the viewer to not only walk around the perimeter of the space but also within it, a development particularly significant given the variations in color amongst the cubes. Enabling the viewer’s physical intervention into the installation activates the possibility for an infinite number of individual optical responses.

The interactive preoccupation recurs in the artist’s practice, most notably explored in his Polychromatic Structures exhibited at Cristin Tierney Gallery in 2015. And it is perhaps this aspect of Kronschlaeger’s forthcoming installation that most tangibly embodies the universal character of the grid. Although defined by a systematically fixed configuration and deeply entrenched in the history of modern art, the grid in Kronschlaeger’s Structure allows for a personalized and highly intimate visual experience.

Revisiting Grid Structure at the Sharjah Museum