New York – Isa Genzken: “Retrospective” at MoMA Through March 10th, 2014

January 21st, 2014

Isa Genzken, World Receiver (2012), via Daniel Creahan for Art Observed
Isa Genzken, World Receiver (2012), via Daniel Creahan for Art Observed

Open since November, Isa Genzken’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art is a colorful affair, combining the artist’s playful manipulation of consumer objects, every day materials and multiple media forms with a studied historical perspective that underlines her architectural and structural interests.

Isa Genzken. Rot-gelb-schwarzes Doppelellipsoid ‘Zwilling’ (Red-Yellow-Black Double Ellipsoid “Twin”), 1982. Lacquered wood, two parts. Overall: 9 7/16 x 8 1/16 x 473 1/4″ (24 x 33.5 x 1202.1 cm) Part one: 5 1/8 x 8 1/16 x 236 1/4″ (13 x 20.5 x 600 cm) Part two: 4 5/16 x 5 1/2 x 237″ (11 x 14 x 602 cm). Collection of the artist. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken
Isa Genzken. Rot-gelb-schwarzes Doppelellipsoid ‘Zwilling’ (Red-Yellow-Black Double Ellipsoid “Twin”), 1982. Lacquered wood, two parts. Overall: 9 7/16 x 8 1/16 x 473 1/4″ (24 x 33.5 x 1202.1 cm) Part one: 5 1/8 x 8 1/16 x 236 1/4″ (13 x 20.5 x 600 cm) Part two: 4 5/16 x 5 1/2 x 237″ (11 x 14 x 602 cm). Collection of the artist. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken

Born in Germany shortly after the end of World War II, Genzken was among a group of dynamic German artists who sought a new cultural perspective for the country in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Often drawing on repurposed materials, Genzken’s work initially explored many of the same minimalist tendencies of her American counterparts, albeit balanced out by other works exploring the structural, often rectangular forms of print publications, consumer electronics and architectural elements.  As her works evolved, Genzken’s constructivist leanings continued to interplay with pop art and cultural critique, eventually growing more complex and multi-layered as her career moved forward.

Installation view of the exhibition Isa Genzken: Retrospective. November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Jonathan Muzikar
Installation view of the exhibition Isa Genzken: Retrospective. November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Jonathan Muzikar

It’s this concern with construction that makes itself felt throughout Genzken’s show at MoMA, both in materials and Genzken’s ongoing interest with the forms and functions of consumer materials.  Twisting contemporary materials and simple elements of construction through her own vocabulary, Genzken brings attention not only to the common forms and shapes for many consumer materials, but also to the essential rules for construction and design.

Isa Genzken. Spielautomat (Slot Machine), 1999-2000. Slot machine, paper, chromogenic color prints, and tape. 63 x 25 9/16 x 19 11/16″ (160 x 65 x 50 cm). Private Collection, Berlin. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken
Isa Genzken. Spielautomat (Slot Machine), 1999-2000. Slot machine, paper, chromogenic color prints, and tape. 63 x 25 9/16 x 19 11/16″ (160 x 65 x 50 cm). Private Collection, Berlin. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken

Nowhere is this more perfectly illustrated than her Fuck the Bauhaus series, a set of miniature buildings constructed from pieces of detritus and reused objects.  Recreating iconic structures through these pieces, Genzken challenges the “high art” assumptions attributed to much of contemporary architecture, in favor of a more leveled view.

Installation view of the exhibition Isa Genzken: Retrospective. November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Jonathan Muzikar
Installation view of the exhibition Isa Genzken: Retrospective. November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Jonathan Muzikar

But Genzken’s work goes beyond merely exploring intersections of various aesthetic signifiers.  Other works, such as her self-portrait with her former husband, Gerhard Richter, combine personal narrative with a pastiche of images and objects, combining the artist’s personal experience with the objects and items that help to define and mark her physical presence. Through this multimedia approach, Genzken makes a case for an extended view of human and material experience, one in which the physical objects she touches and embues with value are included in her memories wholesale.

Isa Genzken. MLR, 1992. Alkyd resin spray paint on canvas. 48 1/16 x 32 5/16″ (122 x 82 cm). Lonti Ebers, New York. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken
Isa Genzken. MLR, 1992. Alkyd resin spray paint on canvas. 48 1/16 x 32 5/16″ (122 x 82 cm). Lonti Ebers, New York. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken

It’s an interesting perspective, one which opens a number of questions on the valuation and manipulation of materials.  In a late-capitalist discourse, does Genzken’s work mark an extended valuation of materials, one that binds use and manipulation up with the body, or merely a nuanced perspective towards the detritus bound up in existence?  These questions make themselves felt throughout the show, utilizing photography and assemblage to blur the lines between documented experience and tangible artifact, all while raising questions of value for the art object.

Challenging and nuanced, Genzken’s work is on view until March 10th.

Installation view of the exhibition Isa Genzken: Retrospective. November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Jonathan Muzikar
Installation view of the exhibition Isa Genzken: Retrospective. November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Jonathan Muzikar

Isa Genzken. Disco Soon (Ground Zero), 2008. Synthetic polymer paint on plastic, cardboard, mirror, spray paint, metal, fabric, hose lights, mirror foil, printed sticker, wood blocks, fiberboard, and casters. 86 1/4 x 80 11/16 x 64 15/16 ” (219 x 205 x 165 cm). Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken
Isa Genzken. Disco Soon (Ground Zero), 2008. Synthetic polymer paint on plastic, cardboard, mirror, spray paint, metal, fabric, hose lights, mirror foil, printed sticker, wood blocks, fiberboard, and casters. 86 1/4 x 80 11/16 x 64 15/16 ” (219 x 205 x 165 cm). Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken

Isa Genzken. Fuck the Bauhaus #4, 2000. Plywood, Plexiglas, plastic slinky, clipboards, aluminum light shade, flower petals, tape, printed paper, shells, and model tree. 88 3/16 x 30 5/16 x 24″ (224 x 77 x 61 cm). Private Collection, Turin. Courtesy AC Project Room, New York. © Isa Genzken
Isa Genzken. Fuck the Bauhaus #4, 2000. Plywood, Plexiglas, plastic slinky, clipboards, aluminum light shade, flower petals, tape, printed paper, shells, and model tree. 88 3/16 x 30 5/16 x 24″ (224 x 77 x 61 cm). Private Collection, Turin. Courtesy AC Project Room, New York. © Isa Genzken

Isa Genzken. Bild (Painting), 1989. Concrete and steel. 103 9/16 x 63 x 30 5/16″ (263 x 160 x 77 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Susan and Leonard Feinstein and an anonymous donor. © 2012 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar
Isa Genzken. Bild (Painting), 1989. Concrete and steel. 103 9/16 x 63 x 30 5/16″ (263 x 160 x 77 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Susan and Leonard Feinstein and an anonymous donor. © 2012 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

— D. Creahan

Read more:
Isa Genzken at MoMA [MoMA]
“Assembling Brash Wholes From Scraps” [New York Times]
“Isa Genzken’s Beautiful Ruins” [New Yorker]
“Isa Genzken – MoMA” [Financial Times]
“Posed Chaos and Poignant Words” [Wall Street Journal]