Isa Genzken


Since the mid seventies, Isa Genzken (b. 1948) has been making a name for herself with an oeuvre including sculpture, photography, film, video, works on paper and canvas, collages and books.

During this period, her work groups, which are wide-ranging and surprising in terms of both form and the media used, have involved her public in a constantly fresh examination of the meanings and function-modes of artistic propositions. Here Isa Genzken focuses on the medium of sculpture. This has not been such a presence in art in recent years, but a younger generation of artists is once more making it central to its creative activities. Genzken's work, both historically and actually, is impressive in this context, not just because of its consistent development, which is inherent in the work, but also in the precise analysis, critical of both the age and of art, that she regularly and effortlessly leaves behind her.

Her work concentrates on the ways in which the reality that surrounds and shapes us operate: architecture, design, advertising, media, socio-political themes and fields of tension linked with them, tensions between private and public, permeable and hermetic, subjective and objective.

Genzken always formulates the work of art as an autonomous unit. It cannot become a mere object, and certainly not an escapist object, because it confronts us with individuality, but also with subjectivity and even intimacy, as realities. Thus the relationships, conditions and effects that make up our view of the art object itself, our view of general and social reality, are open to question.

In the late seventies, Isa Genzken attracted attention with her painted wooden works oriented towards abstract sculpture, the "Ellipsoids" and "Hyperbolos". These floor works between 5 and 10 metres long transfer the sculptural formulations of Minimal Art, especially the choice of industrially produced materials and the view of sculpture as a location or place (e.g. Carl Andre), into the field of ideas, of "up-to-date" technology (they were calculated by computer) and into the field of fictionalized space and of the illusionistic art object: their impressive presence in the space derives both from their format and from their painterly treatment. They touch real space in one or two places at the most, their form is part of, the reality of, a concept of space that is conceived more broadly, of a space that is different from the space we really experience in a gallery or museum.

Isa Genzken placed her next group of plaster works on a "stand" (not a pedestal), which serves to raise the sculpture, the object, to the audience's eye-level. This is an approach that Isa Genzken uses for a lot of her work groups - not to show interest in classical sculpture on pedestals, but with reference to transformation and autonomy functions that she ascribes to the artistic object. This can happen in her sculptures, which involve viewers physically in architectural situations on the scale of models (concrete works, New Buildings for Berlin et al.), it can happen in her works for public spaces, which address "real" situations as "pedestals" with a fiction that is just as real for their empty spaces; it can happen in her "real" objects like lamps, windows, hoods in epoxy resin; it can happen in her photographic works, which present bodies or architectures in fragments and details, or in the work groups that use the principle of the "collage" to weave fragments of reality into a heterogeneous and complex surface of reality, as in the 1991 work with images from Der Spiegel, the New York books, body and fish collages, her diverse columns or the "Social Façades".

The group of works in concrete was shown in the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in 1989. These were fragmentary architectural situations on metal pedestals that Genzken had realized between 1986 and 1992. The exhibition in the Kunsthalle in Zurich is now showing works dating from the last two years in particular, from groups that the artist has realized in parallel since the late 90s. "Säulen" (Columns; from 1998), "collaged" using various materials from the DIY store, photographs and media material, reminiscent of skyscrapers and constituting an urban spatial experience; the group of fragile and at the same time architecturally present glass ensembles called "New Buildings for Berlin" (2001/2002), the "Social Façades" (2002/2003), wall pictures made of mirror foil and other adhesive materials in which we are reflected as in the façades of the city; "Science Fiction / Hier und jetzt zufrieden sein" (Science Fiction / Being content here and now), dating from 2001, a sculpture that both fills and dissolves the space, bringing together two reflecting architectural bodies and a photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans; "Weltempfänger" (World receivers) in the new design, metal sculptures whose perforated metal sheets and translucency address the theme of three-dimensional structures.

The most recent group of works, "Empire, Vampire, Who kills Death" (2002/2003) includes over twenty sculptures, and circles around scenarios of violence, urban and landscape devastation and war, in the manner of film sets. Figures become part of in the artist's sculptural work for the first time, and the whole group is an exemplary realization of Isa Genzken's interest in the fictitious space of sculpture. In addition, Isa Genzken shows two revolving "Regiesessel" (Director's chairs), which she has reworked in bulky reflecting material to make an object that casts doubt on the original "chair" as a formal idea for human presence. The film works that are shown at the same time, "Zwei Frauen im Gefecht" (Two women in a skirmish; 1974), "Chicago Drive" and "Meine Grosseltern im Bayrischen Wald" (My grandparents in the Bayrischer Wald; both 1992) take up her sculptural work concept in another form and convey central elements of her work like formal questions, concepts of reality, formed through architectural propositions and the relationship between subject and reality in another medium.

Thank you to: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Stiftung Kunsthalle Zürich, IFA, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart, Swiss Re, Zürich