For sheer conceptual punch and visual intensity, few works from the career of Isa Genzken carry in the way that her Schauspieler pieces manage. Arrangements of various mannequins, from young children to adult bodies are arranged in the artist’s works from this series, each dressed in various fineries and strange arrays of various clothing. Work tools, ponchos, colorful fabrics and sunglasses adorn her figures, creating various scenes and scenarios that always keep the body and its relationship to the world around it in full view. For her most recent show in Berlin, on view at König Galerie through the end of the weekend, Genzken has presented a selection of works from this series, continuing her razor-sharp investigation of the phenomena of modern reality.
Spread throughout the show, the works in this set of Schauspieler works are perhaps Genzken’s most comical and imaginative. In one, a series of mannequins of various age ranges are twisted into a circle, each wearing nothing but a transparent poncho. They stare vacantly at each other, with little potential for a resolution or final understanding of their intentions. Instead, the sheer ridiculousness of their clothing and poses are the only points for the viewer’s consideration. In another work, the body’s pose takes an even greater importance, placing a pair of cloth-draped figures into confrontation across what could be construed as a living room environment. In the midst of their presence is a single body, lying face down in a pathetic pose that brings the scene into a sort of abstracted focus. One must contend with the bodies and the scenes that they imply, but with little narrative hint, one can only speculate on the meanings of the poses themselves.
The works are accompanied by a series of the artist’s vivid wall panels, strange arrangements of colored tape, paint and other material that twist and turn the viewer’s eyes through a series of varied intensities. At their core, they borrow constantly from the language of the world around her: caution tape and iridescent markings that seem ripped directly from street signs and traffic markers. Yet here, abstracted from their functionality, Genzken’s images are reduced to a sort of riff on intensity itself. The pieces express all the volume and urgency of their antecedents, but none of the actual signals, leaving only a state of heightened awareness that the viewer is left to contend with.
In both series of works, we are forced to examine symbols themselves. Genzken, in her examination of her elements, is careful to underscore just how the modes of modern art practice can bring society into focus. Making work that brings so much of reality into the gallery itself, shy of living, breathing humans, Genzken forces the viewer to question what else might actually be missing, and, in the face of these countless tokens of modern consumerist society, what may also be deficient elsewhere.
The artist’s show closes today.
— D. Creahan