A Proposed Katharina Grosse, or PKG

German artist Katharina Grosse paints on an epic scale, creating abstract landscapes, fields, and structures of aerosol paint.

Katharina Grosse, Gateway project for MoMA PS1, 2016, image: König Galerie

In 2016, in the recovering wake of Hurricane Sandy, Grosse painted an abandoned building at Gateway National Recreation Area in The Rockaways, Queens, at the invitation of Klaus Biesenbach, then running MoMA PS1.

It used to be reported/publicized as a sign of success how many private jets flew into EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse, Freiburg (BSL) for Art Basel. NetJets has been a sponsor of the art fair for 23 years, and offers The NetJets ArtBasel Experience to its owners.

Generation Letzte action at Sylt Airport on 6 June 2023, screenshot from tiktok, I think, via @broseph_stalin

In 2023 the climate crisis activists of Generation Letzte took a break from throwing paint on paintings to protest fossil fuels to painting a private jet to protest private jet traffic at Sylt airport in Northern Germany. [This photo of the group was posted to social media a few days after the protest by @broseph_stalin.]

Together these anecdotes outline the contours of a Proposal for a Katharina Grosse [PKG] project at Art Public. the public art program of Art Basel, in which the artist paints all the private jets on the tarmac at BSL.

At first I considered this would be a vast and yet targeted escalation of the disruption of the high-impact industry of private jet travel. By the time I have typed this far, though, I realize that an official commission or programmed artwork would almost certainly be brought to the jet owner/operator/travelers’ attention in advance.

unidentified nft artist at ibiza, 2017 [via]

I can easily imagine ways to prep a plane so that being sprayed with paint does not, in fact, disable it. Rather than gumming up the traffic and diminishing the timesaving aspects of flying private, a Grosse-painted plane could become a badge of pride in the collector community, like a temporary tattoo from a triathlon, or an Ibiza dance club handstamp the morning after on the beach. Each plane becomes a unique edition, with a corresponding NFT to be minted for each jet. [Too bad NFTs crashed, because the wrangling among fractional share owners and the mintless ignominy of the mere charter passengers and hitchhikers would be a vibe.]

No, it doesn’t matter how crunchy James Murdoch is, this PKG cannot be part of the official, announced programme; it loses too much. As with any climate emergency-related changes, the sooner it can take effect, the sooner the damage can be mitigated. So 2024 is the obvious best time for it to happen. Or perhaps its unrealized nature is its real strength, and the impact comes from its possibility, that this Art Basel, this might finally be the year you fly around and find out.

Police spraying protesters in Kampala, Uganda, May 10, 2011 [image james akena/reuters via cfr.org]

At some point, though, perhaps things will flip. And the public opprobrium of flying private outweighs its cachet. At that point, the PKG operates like a dye bomb in a bank bag, or a dyed water cannon at a protest, a way to stain and mark and track offenders. Painting is not only not dead, it’s alive and on the run.