Hahn Cock by Katharina Fritsch

Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch

One of the newer must see works at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC, is a fourteen foot tall ultramarine rooster. The piece is called “Hahn/Cock.” The contemporary artist behind it is Katharina Fritsch. The cockerel makes his home on top of the East Building in the rooftop sculpture garden. The patio is an oasis of modern and contemporary art that also offers a unique view of the Capitol Dome. Today, we are going to look at the artist Katharina Fritsch, the Fourth Plinth public works project that originally commissioned Fritsch’s sculpture, and finally find out a bit more about the statue “Hahn/Cock.

That’s so Fritsch?

Katharina Fritsch is best known for her sculptures. They sometimes resemble oversized plastic icons, and souvenirs found in mid-century vending machines. The statues are a combination of kitsch, memory, and dreams. The German artist strives to create an emotional response to her work. A key to that is her use of color. Her statues include a citrine Madonna, a lavender egg, and a pink shell woman, walking her small white pooch who is also made of shells. Fritsch has very strong associations to color. In her mind, various colors correspond to days of the week, and different numbers. She also chooses to paint with matte colors, these colors absorb light instead of reflecting it. The colors act like a neon sign inviting you in, but you have to really look at her work to see the nuances in shading, and details. Fritsch garnered an international audience when she represented Germany at the 1995 Venice Biennale.

The Fourth Plinth

Hahn Cock at The Fourth Plinth
Hahn Cock at The Fourth Plinth

“Hahn/Cock” was not made for its current location. It was originally created for London’s Foueth Plinth Commission, which is a world famous public arts program. London’s Trafalgar Square is home to many statues. Some of them sit atop large bases known as plinths. The Fourth Plinth was designed to hold an equestrian statue in the North-West corner of the square. Only the statue was never installed. Back in 1994, Prue Leith (Yes, that is Prue from the Great British Bake Off) was chair of the Royal Society of Arts. She suggested something should be done about the plinth which had already been empty for 150 years. The project began commissioning sculptures from a range of artists in 1999. The project died out after three works, but was revived as the Fourth Plinth Commission. In addition to Fritsch, a few of the artists, whose work has appeared on the plinth, include Yinka Shonibare, Hans Haacke,                                   and Rachel Whiteread.

Colorful Language

There is a sense of linguistic fun at the heart of “Hahn/Cock.” The word Hahn means rooster, or cockerel, in German. In both languages the term is rife for double entendres. Fritsch views the piece as a tongue-in-cheek feminist statement on male posturing. She created it to be in conversation with the statue on top of Nelson’s Column, which is the centerpiece of Trafalgar Square. The rooster’s plumage and tail feathers have similarities to the hat, and jacket
folds found on Admiral Nelson’s statue. This hyper-bright shade of blue is one of Fritsch’s mainstays. She ascribes her love of ultramarine to Renaissance artists, like Giotto. She fell in love with the shade during childhood visits to European cathedrals where she first saw it, and similar colors used to paint the heavens.

A Permanent Home at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

In 2016, Glenstone Museum loaned the statue to the NGA. This year the National Gallery of Art turned 80. In honor of this milestone, and as a symbol of hope, and renewal, Glenstone donated the sculpture to the nation’s museum. There is a certain poetic irony that “Hahn/Cock” now roosts above the small stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that connects the White House to the United States Capitol. Resting above the marble white buildings of government, and power he stands sentinel reminding us all to have a little fun, and not take ourselves too seriously.

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Kristin Johnson

I love art, and writing. One is deeply personal, the other helped me get my BA in journalism from IU. I am passionate about storytelling. My greatest professional compliment came from a business owner who said, “Your profile piece captured everything I believe about my business.”
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