The Grand Buffet
with room tones by Daniel Neumann
at Haus Schminke
September 30 – October 6, 2023
at Art Cologne
November 16 – 19, 2023
Alina Grasmann, this is a poem, 2023, Oil on Canvas, 51 x 71"
Alina Grasmann’s paintings are rooted in histories and architecture of specific places – from the intentional community of Arcosanti, Arizona, to Montauk, New York, where (according to a fictional conspiracy theory) the government conducts experiments in paranormal activities, to the “paper town” of Agloe – a fictitious mark on a map made to trap copyright infringement. It is telling that the sites of Grasmann’s previous bodies of work are located in the United States, where new mythologies seem to emerge on a daily basis, and the border between fiction and fact resembles more a sound wave than a straight line. An exceptionally skilled painter, Grasmann identifies and skirts this blurry border at will, imbuing real interiors with reflection, glare, and magical references to iconic artworks, films, toys, and food.
The subject of Grasmann’s most recent series, The Grand Buffet, is Haus Schminke, a landmark of modernist architecture built by Hans Scharoun in the Saxon countryside in the early 1930s. Its round forms, porthole-like window treatments, colorful ceilings, and direct connections through glass walls to nature – reminiscent of Arcosanti – were designed as a fun experience, especially for the four children of the Schminke family. Grasmann’s paintings recreate this intent, tracing the feeling she had when visiting the
place, and awakening the viewer’s own childhood memories.
The title of the series is an allusion to the classic 1973 film La Grande Bouffe (The Big Feast). The film revolves around food and transience of life – the memento mori refrains found both in still lifes of old masters and in the history of Haus Schminke.
The Schminkes' noodle factory, situated directly behind the house, had been a family business since 1904. World War II started shortly after the house was completed. Fritz Schminke’s son Harald was killed on the battlefield and Fritz was taken prisoner and
convicted as a war criminal because his company had supplied the Wehrmacht with noodles. After the war, the pasta factory was expropriated by the East German government, the Schminkes divorced, and their house became a recreation center for
communist boy scouts, falling into disrepair until the reunification of Germany.
Grasmann’s depictions of Haus Schminke highlight the duality of its history: built to celebrate life, today it can only be seen in the context of its downfall. However, it is not Grasmann’s intention to bring the old ghosts to life. Instead, she creates spaces for new stories, in which we, the viewers, or rather the phenomena around us, are the protagonists.
Connecting with the motifs of her previous work, Grasmann paints domestic interiors as if people just left, with only a few objects, such as an overturned glass or a burning sparkler, referring to human presence.
I think of my pictures as stage sets or backdrops in a film. That's how I imagined this new series – as a chamber play. The film La Grande Bouffe is a chamber play, too, but it takes place in an Art Nouveau villa on the
outskirts of Paris.
Grassman’s stage set is for a chamber play without a plot, without people, highlighting instead the formal qualities of what life at the house might have been like – its light, location, dimensions, materials, and sound.
The Grand Buffet paintings have been exhibited twice – at Fridman Gallery in New York in the summer of 2022, and at Haus Schminke itself in October of 2023. On both occasions, Grasmann collaborated with the sound artist and engineer Daniel Neumann. At Haus Schminke. Neumann’s ambient tracks – electronic drones (or “room tones”) and improvisations on the house grand piano – were played back at random on a multi-channel sound system invisibly installed in the living room, the bedrooms and the winter garden. These spooky spatial compositions accentuated the formal qualities of the house and of Grasmann’s paintings – the interplay of light, space, and time.