Meet the artist behind the big blue rooster

Katharina Fritsch, 'Hahn/Cock'
German artist Katharina Fritsch wanted to poke fun at the masculine nature of much public sculpture.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

One of the big attractions — literally — of the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a giant blue rooster. It was also potentially the most controversial, too, at least until the "Scaffold" situation blew up two weeks ago.

The rooster began life as a tongue-in-cheek jab at the masculinity of most commemorative sculpture. As a crane swung the rooster into position a couple of weeks ago, artist Katharina Fritsch watched from Germany courtesy of a smartphone. She then chatted with some of the dignitaries gathered for the installation.

"I think your piece is going to be the pièce de résistance," someone commented.

"Well, OK," Fritsch said, and then laughed.

Walker Visual Arts Curator Pavel Pyś then briefed the small crowd.

Katharina Fritsch joined the installation of her piece via Skype.
Katharina Fritsch joined the installation of her piece "Hahn/Cock" in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden via Skype from her home in Dusseldorf, Germany, on May 24.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"Today is a really important day," he said. "We are celebrating the installation of Katharina Fritsch's 'Hahn/Cock,' the ultramarine blue rooster that stands at almost 25 feet high. It's on a beautiful light gray pedestal that the artist designed, a pedestal of steel that was created here in Hugo, Minn., and on top of it is this amazing 13-foot-high rooster."

It's really blue. Katharina Fritsch uses intense colors for her pieces, so intense they seem to change the colors of other things around them. The rooster stands close to the Walker's famed "Spoonbridge and Cherry" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Speaking the next day from her studio in Duesseldorf, she said that, as an Oldenburg admirer, she likes the placement.

"I think it's very nice, with the red of the cherry and the blue of the rooster," she said. "So, yes, I am very happy about that and honored. I feel really honored."

Place and context are important to Fritsch. The rooster at the Walker is the second in an edition of two. The first was installed in London's Trafalgar Square in 2013. The square's a monument to the pivotal 1805 British naval victory over the French and Spanish during the Napoleonic wars. So to have a giant rooster, the symbol of France, painted gallic blue in that place was, at the very least, cheeky. However, Fritsch says her initial thought was that the Trafalgar Square commission offered a chance to use the figure of a brightly painted, strutting fowl to make a feminist statement.

"It was my first idea to do one because of all the male figures there," she said. "And also to add color to the place, because the place seems to be very gray."

The official name of the piece, "Hahn/Cock" — using both German and English words for rooster — is a deliberate double entendre. Fritsch, who watched local TV coverage of the installation online, was amused by how the name seems to be already morphing in Minnesota.

"They call it now HAHN-cock, which sounds a little like Herbie Hancock," she said, laughing.

Fliege (Fly) from the 'Multiples' exhibit at the Walker.
Fliege (Fly) from the 'Multiples' exhibit at the Walker.
Courtesy Walker Art Center

Of course, Trafalgar Square's historical connections mean little in Minneapolis. Visual arts curator Pavel Pyś speculates that the rooster may resonate with the massive concrete figures found in Minnesota's rural towns. Art historian Karal Ann Marling, formerly of the University of Minnesota, once called them "The Colossus of Roads."

The Walker is celebrating Fritsch with a show called "Multiples," which contains dozens of smaller examples of her work. While she makes huge pieces like the rooster, much of her work is on a much smaller scale, designed for display in a small apartment. The pieces are both attractive and disturbing, ranging from brightly colored umbrellas and religious statues to rats and flies painted with a light absorbing black paint that gives them an otherworldly appearance. Pyś says sometimes Fritsch takes the smaller multiples and builds them into larger objects.

Herz mit Zahnen (Teeth heart), Katharina Fritsch
Herz mit Zahnen (Teeth heart), Katharina Fritsch
Courtesy Walker Art Center

"So, for example, the yellow Madonna was turned into an hourglass-shaped unique sculpture of 288 Madonnas stacked on top of one another," Pyś said.

But for now, most eyes are on the big blue rooster in the Sculpture Garden. Katharina Fritsch has a simple hope for what kind of experience visitors will have when they see it.

"I hope a joyful one!" she said.

No matter what it's called.

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