Since the 1970s, Isa Genzken has taken unpredictable ventures into diverse media, aesthetics, and points of reference that include modernist architecture, Constructivism, Minimalism, and our perceptions of the contemporary world.Read More
The varied nature of Genzken's practice is evident from the early days of her career. While at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf—where she studied under Gerhard Richter, whom Genzken later married and divorced—she produced Two Women in Combat (1974), a black-and-white film that shows young Genzken and her friend Susan Grayson exchanging their clothes. Despite the title, their interaction is cordial and filled with laughter throughout the silent film.
During this decade, Genzken also began to produce large-scale wooden sculptures known as 'Ellipsoids' and 'Hyperbolos', whose simplistic forms evoke the legacies of Minimalism. These were designed by computers, making her one of the first artists, among her contemporaries, to marry digital technology and art.
Genzken travelled to the U.S. in 1977, where she became enamoured with New York. She went on to explore the city's urban and modernist architecture in works such as the steel sculpture, Rose (1993), versions of which have been installed in public spaces and reflect their surrounding corporate buildings and the capitalist consumer culture implicit within them.
In 1996, the artist completed I Love New York, Crazy City, an artist's book containing collages made from found images and the photographs she took around New York. Though two-dimensional, Isa Genzken's collages emit a sculptural quality reinforced by the bold lines of duct tape that section their pictorial planes into compartments.
One of the recurrent motifs in Genzken's practice is the window, which prompts the viewer to consider the material and metaphoric properties of space. In photographs such as Ohr (Ear) (1980), close-ups of ear canals transform them into monumental apertures.
An exploration of the symbolic implications of openings and frames formed the core of her solo exhibition Everybody Needs At Least a Window (1992) at The Renaissance Society, Chicago, and continued in the freestanding resin window sculptures in the 'Venedig' series (1993).
The 1990s also witnessed a succession of the experimental spirit that characterises Isa Genzken's work. Early in the decade, she produced X-rays of her skull as she drank and smoked, obscuring the line between art and an artist's personal life.
Her iconic column sculptures, reminiscent of skyscrapers, are constructed from quotidian materials, such as the shiny mirrors that provide a fragmented reflection of the material world in Little Crazy Column (2000) or the more eclectic arrangement of artificial flowers, wood, and miniature figurines of native Americans and cowboys at war in Bouquet (2004).
Isa Genzken has increasingly turned to figurative sculptures to examine contemporary human experiences. In the 'Schauspieler (Actors)' series (2013), for example, she dresses mannequins in various items and clothing—some her own—to reference the extremes of consumerist excess.
Genzken's work has been organised into several travelling exhibitions, including Isa Genzken: Retrospective (2013), presented by Museum of Modern Art, New York; Isa Genzken: New Works, initiated by Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria (2014); and Mach dich hübsch! (2015), a survey exhibition that debuted at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Isa Genzken: Works 1973–1983, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2020); Window, Hauser & Wirth, London (2020); Isa Genzken, Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland (2019); Isa Genzken: Sky Energy, David Zwirner, New York (2017); Isa Genzken. Basic Research Paintings, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2015).
Ikonen. Was wir Menschen anbeten, Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany (2019); Hybrid Sculpture. Contemporary Sculpture from the Collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2019); Like Life. Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now), The Met Breuer, New York (2018); The Long Run, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2017); All the World's Futures, 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale (2015).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020