With a career spanning over four decades, German artist Isa Genzken has constantly worked along the shifting fault-lines of art and design, architecture and media, technology and the individual. With a body of work that constantly seems to absorb and incorporate the physical materials in her close proximity, assembling them through a range of techniques and practices that flirt with any medium that may cross her mind, from sculpture, painting and collage, to drawing, film, and photography. Deeply attuned to both the legacies of the twentieth-century avant-garde and the materials and forms of twenty-first-century global society, Genzken’s work interrogates the impact of our increasingly commodified and interconnected culture on our everyday lives.
For her most recent exhibition at David Zwirner in New York, Genzken returns to a series of works that have long interested her, and explored her particular inclinations towards socially and personally embedded arts practices. Drawing its name from an unrealized screenplay the artist wrote during the 1990’s, the show echoes many of the same concepts and ideas, namely the tensions between public and private spheres, and the deceptive nature of surfaces and facades.
Central to the show are the artist’s Schauspieler (Actors), a series of sculptural installs drawn from the arrangement of various mannequins and other domestic objects meant to conjure evocative, yet ultimately unspecified concepts and situations. The abstraction of the body, suspended in situations that seem to call such specific emotions and memories to mind, also serves as a challenge of meaning-making to the viewer, disrupting or even undermining readings as the action expected is never realized. In one work, a series of adult mannequins move towards a set of children, their vacant gazes and absent expressions leaving the viewer to puzzle over the positioning and presentation of these bodies, or perhaps even to examine their own interpretations the the vacuum afforded by such uncanny subjects.
Accompanying these works are a series of pieces returning to Genzken’s ongoing interest in architecture, albeit an interest distinctly informed and grounded by the aforementioned interests and ideas. Her Towers for instance, or her massive concrete block sculptures, seem to pose a foundation, or stage, even, to act out specific sites and actions, their ability to confine viewers to explicit positions and trajectories in space still allowing for actions that ultimately define both the viewer’s relationship to the work, and even in some cases, the viewer themselves.
If the show is to be read through the themes of Genzken’s screenplay, this last note is of particular importance. Genzken’s work places the viewer in a space where they are both actor and audience. They are bodies receiving the information and iconographies of the site while broadcasting their own actions as mysterious, unspecified agents in their own right. The next course of action between viewers, then, might be an act of empathetic identification, a possibility all too relevant for the year 2018.
Genzken’s work is on view through April 7th.
— D. Creahan
Isa Genzken: Sky Energy [Exhibition Site]