Henriette Grahnert

Objects and Installation


Sometimes, you seem very abstract to me
by Harriet Zilch

“In most cases, striving for something unique only produces rubbish. The best an artist can achieve today is clever reorganization of things long familiar to us.”  (David Bowie)

I. Sometimes, paintings by Henriette Grahnert seem very abstract. And sometimes they don't. The artist juggles skilfully with a wide range of painting traditions: her pictures quote classical abstraction and Concrete Painting, minimalist traditions and Bad Painting, American Color Field work and Pop Art. Expressive sweeps of the brush and informel dabs come along with figurative elements, hard edges with coloured filigree patterns, thin washes with thick paint applied using a palette knife. Henriette Grahnert combines these supposedly antagonistic elements into an individual pictorial cosmos with enigmatic humour. However, not one of the styles and painting methods cited actually represents what it pretends to be. Rather, this is all about an ingenious use of citations and references, as well as a differentiated discourse about painting as such. Or, as one might say, it is about “clever reorganization of things long familiar to us.”
Enjoyment of pointers and references can also be found on the linguistic level: the titles of Henriette Grahnert's works convey a specific humour, which – employing subtle irony and avoiding cheap slapstick or angry polemics – provides additional levels for reception. Meanings shift and even (supposedly) abstract compositions are granted a narrative component that can be linked to everyday experience: a format-filling, confused construction of connected coloured lines and the title Ja schön, aber das beantwortet nicht die Frage (Yes, sure, but that doesn't answer my question, 2008) becomes symbolic of the sometimes complicated routes of human communication. Because of the title Wer mag schon Streber!? (No one likes a swot!?, 2008) a shining green dot among some rather inconspicuous colleagues appears like a poser, trying to grab the (picture's) focus of attention. A filigree, brown honeycomb structure and expressive scratches applied with the brush handle are turned into a matchbox with characteristic traces on the striking surface by the ambiguous label Alte Schachtel (Old Box, 2011).
In Henriette Grahnert's case, title and work enjoy an emancipated and mutually enriching relationship. They have refreshingly equal rights, as the title doesn't describe the work but the work doesn't illustrate the title, either. Both have an independent personality while being at the same time a dream team: once the viewer has seen them together, he will find it impossible to separate them in his mind.
This tactically accomplished, seemingly always light and succinct handling of image and language is reminiscent on occasion of the humour in early works by Sigmar Polke. Applying a delicate irony and at the same time with great seriousness, he also mockingly presented everyday observations as well as attacking art itself. And so Henriette Grahnert's painting In die Ecke zurück!??? (Get back in the corner!???, 2009) appears like homage, inasmuch as it refers to Polke's legendary painting Höhere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen! (Higher beings commanded: paint upper right-hand corner black!) from the year 1969. After 40 years Polke's black corner seems to have developed a rebellious life of its own, tipping right into the picture. The abrupt order “Away into the corner, back into the corner!” , however, sends it back into its proper place. Order is restored, the higher beings are (hopefully) appeased.
Henriette Grahnert places her “command” directly onto the canvas as a hand-written comment, and numerous other works also employ such “text components” set into the painting. In many cases, visual forms of expression and textual phenomena from advertising are quoted here: the apparently striking question Is enough good enough? (2011), written in a grey-coloured cloud on a brightly checked canvas, is reminiscent of an advertising slogan. Certainly it sounds plausible initially, but then we notice that it is largely lacking in content. My inner beauty may speak to you (2010) repeats a common phrase regarding the beauty of inner values. There is obvious dissonance, however, between the “message” of the painting, an appeal to take notice of inner values, and the selected painterly means, which cite sugar-coated, striking advertising aesthetics. The explicit demand that one's counterpart should look beyond beautiful appearances is taken completely ad absurdum, as the painting itself presents an exclusively decorative surface. The work Mostly Middle (2011) also quotes, by means of its reduction to graphic elements, advertising aesthetics with a diffusely nostalgic effect. Strikingly, satirically and at the same time rather charmingly, the painting shows in a kind of organigram that there is a preponderance of mediocrity – in life as well as in art.

II. Henriette Grahnert's paintings do not seem to be striving for something unique; but they do sometimes reveal multiple personalities. Then, there is not one single image existing on the picture surface but several at the same time. Colour patterns, dabs and splashes abide in the underground, telling of a mysterious and often explosive place beyond. They draw explicit attention to the painting's production process, its nature as a process, and its growth – keeping all this present. In front, on the surface of the picture, these representatives of their own history of evolution are overlapped by abstract, large-format pictorial elements and the surface is thus given a formal tranquility. These layers of painting laid over one another oscillate between the opposite poles of presentation and withdrawal: an observation that is equally true of the content of many works. Henriette Grahnert opens curtains, presents stages and arenas, and moves the Actors/Models/Dudes (2015/16) into the spotlight. At the same time, secrets are swept under the carpet or under petit-bourgeois Scheinheiligkeitsdeckchen (Sanctimony Mat) . Here, it is true to say that on all levels, this is about Keeping Secrets .
Produced layer upon layer, these paintings thematize spatiality, as they explicitly visualize something infront and behind. Numerous other works also display an ingenious game with two and three dimensionality, overlapping and removal, empty spaces and doubling. Even a small-format work like Sausage and Steel (2014) uncovers an astonishing spatial effect: the picture foreground is blocked by a St. Andrew's cross made from the leading German exports Wurst und Stahl (Sausage and Steel), filling out the format. Behind this there is an illusion of distance, which even seems to shimmer unearthly. Multilayered illusionary spaces – which play with the viewer's perception, only allowing their complexity to be deciphered gradually, bit by bit – are created by the large-format theatres in particular: Hello! Is it you we are waiting for? (2014), If no one is looking (2014) or Cockfighting Screens (2014). The titles of these “stage paintings” point subtly to the true action, to what happens when no one is watching. The painted stage space provides a projection surface for those events that take place in concealment and in the viewers' minds.
In many cases the architectural context is of central importance to the pictorial composition, and Henriette Grahnert has found numerous possibilities to interrelate the picture and her exhibition spaces: the early work Sportsfreundin (Sport Fan, 2008) shows two balls, fixed to the canvas with elastic belts at breast height. The vitality of this image comes from its controlled dynamics and the idea that the bright-coloured balls may escape their bondage at any time and so leap out into the exhibition space. In the case of So schnell kann’s gehen (It can happen as fast as this, 2008) the “ü” of the word Glück (happiness) has lost its dots above the letter. They have fallen down and are lying on the floor of the exhibition space. Only the unhappy word “Gluck” remains on the wall. Monsieur Tableau's (2015) canvas body, by contrast, has completely abandoned his true place on the wall. Self-confident like a stage actor, he stands in open space, thus nonchalantly blurring the genre boundaries between painting, sculpture and mixed-media assemblage.
Monsieur Tableau could be seen as a big brother to the current series of the Actors/Models/Dudes: in this works Henriette Grahnert sticks figurative components cut from fashion and handicraft magazines onto the canvas. Arms, hats and accessories grow beyond the format delineated by the outer edges of the picture carrier. Wide brush-strokes suggest the protagonists' body silhouettes and physiognomies, but the expressive gestures soon evolve into their own opposites: chance and intention become brothers, and planned hybrid creatures between abstraction and figuration emerge from the apparently uncalculated. Individual names lend personality: Ulla von Basta (2015) folds her arms so vehemently in front of her torso that her attitude becomes one single, defiant “basta”. Olaf Ohnesorg (2015) thrusts his hands casually and indeed rather carelessly into his trouser pockets, and Maasha Tagliatowa (2015), her arms coquettishly akimbo, reminds us of a resolute Aeroflot stewardess.

III. Despite their visually seductive powers, their attractive motifs and coloration, Henriette Grahnert's works are far from being purely decorative, a simple staged spectacle. Everything that seems spontaneous, direct and playful proves simultaneously planned, controlled and intellectual. Everything that appears with a wink of the eye is simultaneously very serious. Everything that suggests an in-your-face product of chance is simultaneously shown to be carefully and accurately composed. The pointed work titles make the works more accessible, but they also guarantee multiple contexts of meaning. There is always inherent reflection on the medium of painting in these pictures. However, such discourse is not exhausted in pure self-reflection; it is open to everyday life as well. The viewer is not confronted by a hermetically closed cosmos, but discovers many tragicomic Don Quixotes, who prompt identification as well as empathy and a diffuse sense of solidarity. But those inhabiting this painting include not only heroes failing in face of life and its sometimes complicated parameters, but also burning cocks, shooting cowboys, shy stars, influential mothers-in-law, and men with no middle.  Even flamingos are quite conceivable in Henriette Grahnert's work, certainly if their presence is commanded by higher beings: “I stood before the canvas, intending to paint a bunch of flowers, then from higher beings I received the command: No bunch of flowers! Paint flamingos! At first, I intended to go on painting as before, but then I realized that they meant business.”  (Sigmar Polke)

1 Interview on 11.10.1999, cf.: www.spiegel.de/kultur/musik/0,1518,46151,00.html [viewed: 10.05.2016].
2 Ibid.
3 In Henriette Grahnert's work the “A” jumps slighty upwards out of the line, as if she had typed the sentence onto the canvas using a broken typewriter: this is also a reference to Sigmar Polke, who practised the same visual joke with all capital letters in his painting.
4 Unterm Teppich (Under the carpet, 2009); Scheinheiligkeitsdeckchen (Sanctimony mat, 2010); Scheinheiligkeitsdeckchen und Compagnon (Sanctimony mat and companion, 2013). 
5 Cf. Series of works Keeping Secrets (2014-2016).
6  Cock burning (2011); Quentin playing the cowboy (2015); Shy Star (2009); Schwiegermutters Einfluss (Mother-in-law's influence, 2015); Der Mann ohne Zwischenleib (The man with no middle, 2011).
7 Sigmar Polke, Vitrinenstück (Vitrine Piece, 1966), on loan from the Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfonds Collection Franz, Duke of Bavaria to the Bavarian State Painting Collection.

  • 1977 born in Dresden
  • 1997 - 2004 Studies of painting at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig in the class of Prof. Arno Rink
  • 2001 Glasgow School of Arts
  • lives and works in Dresden

Solo shows

  • 2022 Abstract in Disco, Leonardi Museum, Dresden (Germany) 
    Abstract in Disco, Zentrum für Aktuelle Kunst Zitadelle Spandau, Berlin
    Abstract in Disco, Städtisches Museum und Galerie, Engen (Germany)
    Viva la natura morta! Es lebe das Stillleben!, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2016 Sometimes you seem very abstract to me, Kunsthalle Nürnberg
  • 2015 Backstage Gossip (mit Nadin M. Rüfenacht), art hall Giessen
  • 2014 Hide Park Theatre, Marion Scharmann Gallery, Cologne
    Nonopoly, Griffelkunst, Hamburg
  • 2013 Friend November, Gallery Kleindienst. Leipzig
  • 2011 Downside up and outside in - Eine Gebrauchsanweisung war nicht dabei, Art association, Rosenheim (Germany)
  • 2010 Forum Profanum, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2008 Put on beer googles, award ceremony Ernst-Barlach-Award, City gallery Schwaz (Austria)
    It is simply not easy, Museum of Fine Arts Leipzig
    Sutton Lane, London
  • 2007 Henriette Grahnert, Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (UK)
  • 2006 No after all, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2005 Sutton Lane, London
  • 2004 Clikcing in the Air, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2000 Utopian wink, Hobbyshop, Leipzig

Group shows

  • 2023 Chicken is off the menu, Villa Heike, Berlin
    Me and Dorothy, Oechsner Galerie, Nuremberg
    Bilderkosmos Leipzig. 1905-2022, Museum der bildenen Künste, Leipzig
    Minibar II, Galerie Oel-Früh, Hamburg
    Gestalt, ACMCM Centre d'Art Contemporain, Perpignan (France)
    Mashup VII - Move, Gosh, Leipzig 
    Antipoden? Neueste Leipziger Schule, Mädler Art Forum, Leipzig
    New, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig 
    Beat Covid. Malen in der Pandemie, ZDF Digitale Kunsthalle
    Prototypen. Muster und Visionen, Städtische Galerie, Dresden
    Now! Young Painting in Germany, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg
    Heute ist morgen vorbei, Feinkunst Krüger, Hamburg
    Andere Zeit, irgendwann, Choi & Lager, Cologne
    Heads, Galerie der Stadt Wels, Wels (Austria)
  • Meisterstück!, Zentrum für Aktuelle Kunst, Berlin
    Now! Young Painting in Germany, Museum Wiesbaden, Kunstmuseum Bonn und Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz
  • 2018 Aphrodisiac, Evelyn Drewes, Hamburg
  • Sammlung Reydan Weiss. Ohne Etikett fühle ich mich freier, Herzig Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig
  • 30 ziehen durch die Stadt, Affenfaustgalerie, Hamburg
  • MdbK meets G2. Painting from Leipzig since 2000, Museum of Visual Arts, Leipzig
  • 2017 WIN/WIN. Purchases by the Kulturstiftung Sachsen, Halle 14, Leipzig
  • Jetzt Druck machen, Angerlehner Museum, Thalheim (Austria)
  • My Abstract World, Me Collectors Room, Berlin
  • Verlobung, Kunstverein Freunde Aktueller Kunst, Zwickau
  • 2016 Plus/Minus, artoxin Gallery, München
    Storyteller. Contemporary Art from Leipzig, National Art Museum & Goethe Institute, Hanoi (Vietnam)
    Kindred by choice, Gallery b2, Leipzig
    I Prefer Life, Weserburg Museum für Morderne Kunst, Bremen
  • How to find true love and happiness in the present day, Bikini, Berlin
  • 2015 The Donation Böhm. Museum of Fine Arts Leipzig
  • The Better Half - Female Artists from Leipzig., Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig
    Leipzig 2015.Hildebrand Collection, G2 Kunsthalle, Leipzig
    Werkschau der Spinnereikünstler, Werkschauhalle, Leipzig
    MASH UP 2, Hardenbergstraße, Leipzig
    Familiar Society, Thaler Originalgrafik, Leipzig
  • 2014 bb, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    BGL#4 - in between, Kesselhaus, Bergisch Gladbach / Cologne
    2013 without Title: abstract - concrete - constructive, Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig
    The ocean before me, Espace Le Commun - Bâtiment d'art contemporain, Genf
    13 issues, Volte Studio, Leipzig
    You Are my Mirror. Part 1-Girls, Potemka Gallery, Leipzig
    Stolen Gestures, Kunsthaus Nürnberg
    Tilde, Klinger Villa, Leipzig
    Now Here. Contemporary Art from the Art Fond, Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Dresden
  • 2012 New Smokes from Old Fires, Frappant, Hamburg
    HG-CH-BM-TR, Galerie Marion Scharmann, Köln
    Resistance? Oblomowieren: Leisure, Must and Fianeance, Leipziger Kunstverein, Leipzig
    Woldemar-Winkler-Preisträger 1995-2011, Gallery Sparkasse Gütersloh, Gütersloh (Germany)
    Leipzig Painters II, Gallery Baton, Seoul (South Korea)
  • 2011 The Difference lies in the Difference, Gallery Alexandra Saheb, Berlin
    KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin
    Convoy Leipzig, Biksady Gallery, Budapest
    Open on the AEG, Auf AEG, Nuremberg
    Over and out, Schau-fenster, Berlin
    Saxonia Paper, Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig
  • 2010 Korso, association Philara Düsseldorf
    Autoportrait, Galerie de la Jeune Création, Paris
    Things of Life, Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig
    Presentation of the grant holders of the Villa Massimo, Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin
  • 2009 Korso, Werkschauhalle, Leipzig
    60/40/20. Art in Leipzig since 1949, Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig
    Blue coat, Liverpool
    Trouble with Realism, Koch Oberhuber Wolf, Berlin
  • 2008 The Leipzig Phenomenon, Kunsthalle Budapest
    Drawcula, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    New Leipzig School, Cobra Museum, Amstelveen (The Netherlands)
    exhibition house M.1 of the Arthur Boskamp-Foundation, Hohenlockstedt (Germany)
  • 2007 When the sundew..., New Acquisitions of Contemporary Art in the art fond from 2005 to 2007, Royal Palace Dresden
    Made in Leipzig, Schloß Hartenfels, Torgau (Germany)
    Compilation III, art hall Düsseldorf
    Like color in pictures, Aspen Museum of Art, Aspen, Colorado (USA)
  • 2006 Dorothea von Stetten Award, art museum Bonn
    Camilla Low / Henriette Grahnert, Sutton Lane, Paris
    A Chip off the Old Block, Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf
    Sutton Lane, London
    Allstars, Hobbyshop, Munich
    Made in Leipzig, Essl Collection, Klosterneuburg/Vienna
  • 2005 Sutton Lane in Paris, Sutton Lane c/o Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot, Paris
    New Leipzig School, art association Essenheim, Essenheim (Germany)
  • 2004 Städtisches Kaufhaus, Leipzig
    Clicking and Swooshing, art association Sulzfeld, Sulzfeld (Germany)
  • 2002 Nice, Kunstraum B/2, Leipzig
    Young Art 7, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig


  • 2015 Marianne Defet painting stipend, Nuremberg
  • 2012 Stipendiary at Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani, Venice
  • 2009 Grant for one year at the German Academy Villa Massimo, Rome
  • 2008 Ernst Barlach Award
    Sachsenbank Award
  • 2006 Grant of the foundation Kunstfonds Bonn
  • 2005 Woldemar Winkler Award of the Sparkasse Gütersloh


  • 2016 Manchmal erscheinst du mir sehr abstrakt (catalog), Institut für moderne Kunst Nürnberg and Kunsthalle Nürnberg
  • 2015 SACHBUCH (catalog), Toni Schönbuchner, published by Gallery Kleindienst & LUBOK Verlag Leipzig, sponsored by the Kulturstiftung Sachsen
  • 2011 Neue Abstraktion: Henriette Grahnert, Sven Drühl, Kunstforum
  • 2010 Peinliche Heiterkeit, Robert Schimke, Spinart
  • 2009 Doppelbödiges Spiel mit der Malerei, Sigrun Hellmich, Goethe-Institut, Online Redaktion
    Baumarkt-Illusionismus, Robert Schimke, die Tageszeitung
    Ironische Anspielungen auf die Szene, Sigrun Hellmich, Sächsische Zeitung
    Vieles entsteht zufällig, Interview mit Meinhard Michael, Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ)
    Einfach ein Vergnügen, Meinhard Michael, Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ)
  • 2008 Henriette Grahnert: BAckstage, James Westcott, artreview.com
    Henriette Grahnert, Jane Neal, Flash Art International
    Malerei mit Denkblase, Kito Nedo, Art Magazin
    Eroberung des Umraums, Silke Janßen, Kunststoff
    Es ist einfach nicht einfach, published by Hans-Werner Schmidt on the occasion of Kunstpreis der Sachsen Bank 2008
    Henriette Grahnert, published for Signifikante Signaturen 2008, Publisher: Eastgerman Sparkassen-foundation in Saxony
    Where is Henriette Grahnert?, artnet questionnaire, artnet magazin
  • 2007 Tina Schulz, Absage mit Ansage, in: Compilation III, exhibition catalogue art hall Düsseldorf, Freiburg 2007, pages 49 – 51
  • 2006 Christin Hölzig, Striche tanzen aus der Reihe, in: Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ), February 15 2006
    Helga Meister, Die ideale Welt des Regenbogens, in: Westdeutsche Zeitung, April 1 2006
    Nicolas Bauch, Henriette Grahnert et Camilla Løw
    Tina Schulz, Trotzdem, in: doch nicht. Henriette Grahnert, exhibition catalogue Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig 2006
    Tina Schulz, Henriette Grahnert, in: Made in Leipzig. Bilder aus einer Stadt, exhibition catalogue Essl Collection, 2006, page 68
    Hans-Werner Schmidt, Gut gemeint – gut gemacht, in: Dorothea von Stetten-Kunstpreis 2006, exhibition catalogue Bonn 2006, pages 50 – 51
  • 2005 Meinhard Michael, Kunstmetropole Leipzig: Henriette Grahnert, Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ), 2. Mai 2005
    Jane Neal, Sutton Lane: Henriette Grahnert, in: Flash Art International July/August/September 2005
  • 2004 Christine Hölzig, Kunst im Auge des Tornados, in: Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ), July 29 2004