Rosemarie Trockel



On display at Tate Liverpool

Rosemarie Trockel born 1952
Original title
Ohne Titel
Wool and acrylic
Object: 2200 x 1505 mm
Purchased 1987

Display caption

This is one of Trockel’s many works made of machine-knitted wool, which are produced following her pattern designs. Trockel first exhibited geometric knitted works in 1985, and later started using her mass-produced fabrics to make balaclavas and other items of clothing. Her early geometric patterns were followed by well-known images and logos, from the Playboy Bunny to hammers and sickles and swastikas. In such works, the differences between decorative motif, logo and ideological symbols are disturbingly blurred.

Gallery label, August 2013

Catalogue entry

T04931 Untitled 1986 Ohne Titel

Dyed knitted wool and acrylic yarn 2200 × 1505 (86 5/8 × 59 1/4) from an edition of 3
Not inscribed
Purchased from Monika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Exh: Rosemary Trockel, Monika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne, Nov. 1986–Jan. 1987 (no number); Art from Europe, Tate Gallery, April–June 1987 (no number, repr. p.43 in col.)
Lit: Nona Nyffeler, ‘Rosemarie Trockels Strickbilder’, Wolkenkratzer Art Journal, vol.12, no.2, April–June 1986, pp.50–3; Catherine Lacey, ‘Rosemarie Trockel’ in Art from Europe, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1987, pp.15–17, repr. p.43 in col.; Ingrid Rein, ‘Knitting, Stretching, Drawing Out: Rosemarie Trockel’, trans. Charles Miller, Artforum, vol.25, no.10, Summer 1987, p.110; Sidra Stich, ‘The Affirmation of Difference in the Art of Rosemarie Trockel’ in Sidra Stich (ed.), Rosemarie Trockel, Munich 1991, p.21, fig.10 in col. (another example)

This work is made up of a length of machine-knitted wool, knitted in stocking stitch, stretched over a wooden stretcher. It is displayed without a frame, at the same height as a conventional painting. Like most of Trockel's knitted works, it contains a repeated pattern that has been produced by a computerised knitting machine. In T04931 the pattern consists six horizontal bands in different shades of blue, incorporating one band of crosses within squares and, below it, a band with three rows of swastikas on a dark blue and black ground. The thread count is 5 1/2 stitches horizontally and three stitches vertically per inch. All four edges of the work have been cast off by machine.

Patterned knitting, made up into garments or stretched like large paintings, has represented one important area of Trockel's work since her first major solo exhibition (see Rosemarie Trockel: Bilder, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, exh. cat., Rheinisches Landmuseum, Bonn 1985), although she has equally been associated with a large body of drawings, sculpture and mixed-media installations. The Bonn catalogue illustrates three early wool works. One represents blue bars, or minus signs, on a beige ground, a reference to the minimal sign systems of the Italian artist Neile Toroni (born 1937) (‘O.T.’, 1985, detail repr. ibid., p.7 in col.); a second has a repeated Playboy ‘Bunny’ motif on an orange ground (‘O.T.’, 1985, detail repr. ibid., p.17 in col.); the third has the wellknown Woolmark logo, executed in orange on a beige ground (‘O.T.’, 1985, detail repr. ibid., p.39 in col.). As in T04931, the patterns in these works appear as if they could be repeated infinitely. The Bonn catalogue also reproduces possible sources for Trockel's patterned wool works, for example, a nineteenth-century photograph of a woman wearing a dress with a key pattern border (ibid., p.6) and a portrait by the artist of a woman wearing a turban decorated with blue bars (p.7).

Some of Trockel's early knitted works involved fairly straightforward formal contrasts of patterning, for example, diagonal and vertical stripes, chequerboard or geometric fabric patterns of the 1950s, a number of which are reproduced in a leaflet accompanying the 1986–7 Monkika Sprüth Galerie exhibition. Other wellknown symbols used by the artist in the mid-1980s, in a variety of formats and configurations, are swastikas, as in T04931, ‘Op Art’ patterns, hammers and sickles (see, for example, ‘Untitled’, 1986, repr. Stich 1991, fig.9 in col.), Norwegian knitting patterns (see, for example, ‘Untitled’, 1986, repr. Flash Art, no.134, May 1987, p.42 in col.), and the ‘Marlboro Cowboy’ from cigarette advertisements (see, for example, ‘Untitled (Cowboys)’, 1987, repr. Stich 1991, fig.21 in col.).

Trockel's knitted works have sometimes taken the form of garments. These have included balaclavas (repr.ibid., fig.57 in col.), sweaters, including the ‘Shizo-Pullover’, 1988, a garment with two neck openings (repr. ibid., fig.28), tights (repr. ibid., fig.15, in col.), and a dress with Woolmark motifs covering each breast (repr. ibid., fig.5). Later works have involved knitted texts (such as ‘Cogito, ergo sum’, 1988, repr. ibid., fig.32 in col.) and ink blot patterns, computer renderings of the type of random blots used by the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach in his experiments (see, for example, the two untitled paintings from 1991 reproduced in Parkett, no.34, Sept. 1992, pp.46–7).

Trockel's choice of wool or synthetic yarn as a medium has been correctly associated by critics with an interest in examining an area of creativity traditionally labelled ‘women's work’. Speaking of the feminist strategy of adopting the procedures and materials of activities traditionally held to be women's, and therefore conventionally discredited, the artist has said: ‘what is most painful, what is most tragic about the matter is that women have intensified this alleged inferiority of the “typically female”. The stumbling block lies, therefore, in consciousness itself. Art about women's art is just as tedious as the art of men about men's art. Sniping at madonnas is as questionable as the eternal citing of the Black Square by Malevich.’ (Jutta Koether, ‘Interview with Rosemarie Trockel’, Flash Art, no.34, May 1987, p.42.)

In another interview, the artist said that her reasons for making knitted works came from her wish to investigate why women artists have sometimes turned to domestic materials for their art. Trockel wanted to know whether, by removing the handcraft aspect, and using a computer, she could defeat a ‘negative cliché’ about women's art. Was women's art influenced by the approach to materials or by the selection of the actual materials used? ‘When involved with traditional or contemporary patterns for knitted works, like those advertised in women's magazines ... I began to gain an insight into the phenomenon of pattern itself. I often saw patterns that I had analysed on the street once more and found an odd class-specific classification of those patterns. I would like to pursue that further’ (quoted in Doris von Drateln, ‘Rosemarie Trockel, Endlich ahnen, nicht nur wissen’, Kunstforum International, no.93, Feb.–March 1988, pp.210–17).

In order to test the power of her materials, Trockel has deliberately set works such as T04931 apart from traditional craft practice by having them produced by others. Having made blueprints for her design, the artist entrusts the production of the piece to technicians using computerised machinery. (An example of a computer pattern used for one of her works is reproduced in Flash Art, no.134, May 1987, p.38.) Both preliminary samples and finished large works are produced in this way. The dense texture of T04931 reinforces the look of mechanised production and its bands of colour make reference to pattern painting. Trockel has asserted that content takes precedence over form in her knitted works, despite their apparent similarity to the hard-edged ironic abstract works of the 1980s, sometimes referred to as ‘Neo-Geo’ painting. The artist is interested in the social conditions that have produced the serial patterns that she uses: ‘the aesthetic attitude in these pictures is one of depreciation, and indeed the depreciation relates not only to the material, but also to the symbols’ (quoted in Koether 1987, p.41).

Discussing the origins of her knitting patterns, Trockel has said:

The patterns I use are ... ones I come upon in knitting books, papers like Brigitte [a German women's magazine] and designs for tapestries, fabrics, etc. In fact the meaning of the concept ‘pattern’ is the model to be copied. These knitted pictures, then, differ from conventional iconography. If I knit a garment or sweater [with] the hammer and sickle, for instance, there is a depreciation of the ideology, bound up in identifying the logos for product propaganda and ideological propaganda.

(ibid., p.41)

Sidra Stich compares aspects of Trockel's wool works, for example, her use of the cross motif, to the work of Joseph Beuys (see Stich 1991, p.25 n.13), and analogies may be drawn between the wool ‘paintings’ and Sigmar Polke's subversion of ‘high art’ by painting on printed fabrics. (However, Stich links Trockel's strategy to that of Andy Warhol, ‘who effectively ensconced art in the sphere of consumer culture with its fetishised banal imagery and mass-reproduction aesthetics’, pointing out that ‘Trockel further upsets thinking about image potency by calling attention to the ironies and traps associated with image duplication’ (ibid., p.20). Writing on T04931, Stich points out that Trockel's patterns remind us that ‘meaning is not inherent but historically and contextually conditioned ... it was the tyranny of political might that made the swastika an emblem of power, instead of the mystical symbol it had been for centuries ... But even an emblem so loaded as the swastika can revert to a primal pattern ... when it takes its place as a bent cross design alongside right-angle markings that form squares within a knitted picture’ (ibid., p.21).

Trockel lives and works in Cologne. According to the artist, T04931 is one of an edition of three (reply to the compiler's questionnaire, written on Trockel's behalf by the Monica Sprüth Galerie on 28 July 1994). Another example is illustrated in Stich 1991, fig.10 in col. The compiler has been unable to ascertain the whereabouts of the other two works in the edition. T04831 was made in Italy in 1986 but the artist was unable to say where. It is made from a mixture of acrylic yarn and wool and was made on a computerised knitting machine by a technician who prepared a knitting programme working to the artist's specifications. Trockel uses different firms to make her knitted works but the artist was not able to give further details of the process of manufacture, beyond noting that the manufacturer who made this work generally makes fashion garments. Although it has been Trockel's practice to take her patterns from exisiting pattern books and women's magazines, the compiler was unable to ascertain from the artist whether she worked from a ready-made magazine pattern when designing T04931 or from a composite design. The artist, however, was able to confirm through her gallery that preliminary sketches for the work no longer exist. Trockel's gallery also informed the compiler that the artist has made between fifty and sixty knitted works to date.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996