Isa Genzken

Isa Genzken is a German artist and curator who started working predominantly in wood, and throughout her 40 year career has processed to work in a variety of mediums including; assemblage, sculpture, painting, photography, collage, drawing, artist’s books, film, large-scale installations, plaster, concrete and steel.

Isa Genzken exacerbates the ‘junkspace’ around us – Frieze

Her inspirations for her artworks include that of two grand themes: modernity and urban structure. This encompasses everything from urban chaos and modernist architecture to pop culture and the lineage of female beauty. Material culture can also be considered as one of her inspirations as she looks deeply into design, consumer goods and the media that markets these. Genzken also draws loosely from constructivism and minimalism by having an open dialogue with modernist architecture. ‘Her interest lies in the way in which common aesthetic styles come to illustrate and embody contemporary political and social ideologies’ (David Zwirner). Using construcitivm and minimalism, Isa Genzken also explores the tension between permanence and transience, and through this comments on the way we are also to build and destroy our environments and uses this as a ‘expression of hope as well as a monument to our consumption and destructiveness’ (Artsy)

Architecture is both the shifting foundation and fractured mirrored surface of her inspiration. – Frieze

The exhibitions that she helps to curate allow her to have a precise and elegant dialogue between her pieces. Rather than creating some obvious juxtaposition, many of her exhibitions create new meanings without just exploiting the other works within a show (Frieze). A common installation of her hi-fi stereo equipment photographs and ear photographs shows this dialogue and juxtaposition. These are exhibited along with Hyperbolo and Ellipsoid sculptures, allowing the conversation and dialogue of engineering in the state-of-the-art stereo system and the ‘intricate shape of the human ear and to the precision modelling of her sculptures’ (Contemporary Art Daily).
Much of her dialogue is also to make the viewer look at the world from her perspective. All throughout her exhibitions, there is a combination of different bodies of work that ‘establish juxtapositions’ and ‘bypass chronology or synchronicity’ (Frieze).
Towards the closing of the 20th century, her diaristic artist books of I Love New York, Crazy City (1995–6) and its Berlin counterpart Mach Dich Hübsch (2015) shows a collapse of time and space in a narrative non-space. Each of the pages is slapped thickly with everything from newspaper cuttings, coloured tape and snapshots of street life to buildings, interiors, restaurant menus and other prints, all of which is ‘collated, copied and reworked, page after page’ (Frieze). They accumulate impressions and encounters, which are all in juxtaposition with one another, especially through their repetition. At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, her work was able to become her own vocabulary, language and even knowledge of cultural materiality, identity and experience. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, her collated pages, and the more recent works relate closer to cyborgs and cyborg-like mannequins. These works give a warning, an omen, and counter technological developments that we face, which ‘have conspired to bind us to screens as providers and producers of meaning, and – consequently – left us ever more distracted from material sweeping and leftovers of experience’ (Frieze). In one of her works, Schauspieler II (Actors, 2015), of mannequins window-dressed in culture’s leftover scraps and living in a rubbish bin, actors perform individuality that falls away to reveal skin-level sameness. This piece is one of many that shames people for being sheep and highlights the fear that originality is no longer possible. (Frieze)

Though clearly influenced by Pop, Genzken never accepted the naturalism of the given image as a compositional whole. Her kaleidoscope of ready-mades refers, at once, to the commodity-form vibrant materiality and to the modes of exchange it fosters or displaces. It is often said that Genzken stages the ruins of modernism, I rather think she stages the ruins of capitalism, and its entanglement of glitz and junk-space, spec-tacle and abjection. –  Frieze

Understanding dialogue and juxtaposition came from understanding the possibilities in film between images and objects. The appreciation of architectural materials and unconventional materials from both hardware and houseware stores also allowed her to experiment with dialogue and juxtaposition in order to create sculptural and installation pieces.

Likewise, I believe, beauty can do with some drama when publicly staged. This is why I adored Isa Genzken’s contribution to the 1997 Sculpture Projects: Vollmond (Full Moon). She had a frosted glass sphere, two and a half metres in diameter, installed on a 14-metre-high steel pole in the park grounds beside the Aasee, and illuminated day and night. Genzken took Oldenburg’s billiard ball, lit it up and made it levitate. The drama of the work lay in its audacious attempt to rival the moon for its beauty. Beauty is one of those cruel gifts that can neither be refused nor returned. Reciprocating the gift of the moon by offering it its own beauty back is a gesture of enormous exuberance, and it was performed by Genzken with the strict simplicity of the most minimal means. I have vague but very fond memories of resting on the grass beside the work with friends, gazing up at the sky with its double moon and, for once, feeling very happy in the presence of a public sculpture. So it is possible. Let’s see what happens in the coming year. – Frieze

Isa Genzken’s full biography can be viewed here, along with her bibliography here. The home of her artworks is at the Saatchi Gallery, London.

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