Isa Genzken is one of Germany’s most notable contemporary artists. Born in 1948, her work spans sculpture, installation, film, photography, collage, and painting, and she has continued to drive the German arts community forward with an inventive approach to digital media and created computer-designed sculptures that dates to the 1970’s. Drawing on influences of American minimalism and conceptual art, alongside pop art, Genzken’s ready-mades and mannequin-based works also enter into conversation with Dadaist and Surrealist influences.
Now through June 26, Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is presenting Mach Dich hübsch! (Make Yourself Pretty!), a retrospective of Genzken’s dynamic body of work dating from the 1970s through today. The prolific and outspoken artist is best known for her sculptural pieces, but the show is a testament to a body of work that resists determined characterization or containment in any given genre or medium. Instead, certain themes and attitudes serve as a consistent thread that runs throughout, and ties together Genzken’s work in film, installation, and sculpture quite effortlessly.
A sense of playfulness dominates this exhibition. Though many of the works refer to specific historical events in their titles, the colorful, experimental and abstract form they take emphasizes a playful interrogation of the relationship between art and social commentary. Many of the more contemporary pieces toe the line between personal experience and a collective national or cultural lens, like Genzken’s piece Ground Zero (2008), for example, which testifies to the artist’s personal experience of the cataclysmic attacks of 9/11 as she experienced them first-hand in New York.
An emphasis on repetition comes through the multiple works. Many of the works in the exhibition reveal a serial format, including photographs, mannequins, collages and sculptures that incorporate frequent reiterations of material and pattern. The artist speaks to this repetition as a necessary process in the production of some works in one of her quotations featured in this exhibition as well. Her words point to a belief that eventually an artwork will find its natural end when one engages in this process of repetition for long enough.
Another recurring element to this work is the integration of autobiographical elements. Genzken frequently incorporates clothing from her own wardrobe, or photographs from her personal collection into the pieces. Jacken und Hemden (1998), for example, is evidently a reflection of Genzken’s personal experience in the Berlin techno and club scene. Another particularly successful interrogation of self, identity and image is a more recent project in which Genzken composed collages out of repeating pieces of mirror or reflective surface. Soziale Fassade (2002) again engages with questions of self, identity, and the audience, and exemplifies the artist’s interest in playing with this dynamic of observer and observed.
This retrospective offers an exhaustive and in-depth overview of the work of Isa Genzken. Spanning multiple rooms and mediums, the show is a completely immersive and animated experience. A comparative study of the skylines of Berlin and New York City, a self portrait that takes the form of an X-Ray image of the artist’s skull, and a series of delicate extended sculptures arranged in the impressive atrium of the gallery all testify to the significant place of this artist in Berlin’s avant-garde legacy.
The exhibition is on view through June 26th.
Exhibition Page [Berliner Festspiele]