MoMA is currently showing a retrospective of forty years of work by German artist Isa Genzken. She is well known among the art scene but quite a mystery for the general public.
In 2008 she was part of a group exhibition at the New Museum (New York) called “the Unmonumental, the Object in the 21st Century” curated by Richard Flood, Laura Hoptman and Massimiliano Gioni. The show investigated the nature of a specific form of contemporary sculpture: the anti-masterpieces. Using found materials, stuff from the everyday life, in the form of assemblage, collage and installation, maybe as a symbol of a crumbling society and broken icons. The sculptures are provisional, and critique a corroded and corrupted society. They are un-heroic and manifestly unmonumental. This is rooted in a tradition that comes from Dada and Marcel Duchamp, that no wonder why it was created right after the shock of WWI. From this show Isa Genzken‘s pieces where outstanding.
The themes of war and disaster are present in her work since early on from late 1980’s. Using plaster, concrete and steel on high steel pedestals, they resemble architectural maquettes and are titled in some cases after the kinds of buildings they represent. Although their cubic forms and industrial materials connect them to a Minimalist aesthetic, their handmade quality and their similarity to bombed-out ruins makes us think of post WWII Germany.
By the mid 1990s she is experimenting with architectural forms like windows made of epoxy resin, collage and photography. She lives for short periods in New York and her experiences here will be very much present as a subject matter for her work to the present moment.
Works like ‘Fuck the Bauhaus” made of found materials using the language of assemblage, comes from this very specific experience of living in New York. The pieces make us think of mass production objects, and as sculptures they look fresh and casual, but their inventiveness is remarkable.
From the late 1990s on, Isa Genzken creates increasingly complex assemblage installations that engage with geopolitical issues of our time. In 2001 she witnesses the horrific events of September 11 in New York, and two years later will create two of her landmark bodies of work, using again the themes of war and disaster as the subject matter of her sculptures.
“Empire/Vampire, who kills death“, are post-destruction scenes arranged on pedestals, resembling again architectural models, in a combinations of found objects, action figures, plastic vessels, and various elements of consumer detritus. There is also an interesting video.
“Gound Zero” from 2008 is the last large installation of the show. Originally prototypes submitted to the open call to rebuild the Ground Zero area, they work at the same time as objects and as maquettes for buildings that represent for example a fashion store, a disco, a church and a hospital. As Laura Hoptman curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture of MoMA said, they are critical and celebratory pieces at the same time.
How architecture acts in the environment and how the environment affects us as human beings is a current thread in Isa Genzken’s work, and like it or not, her audacious work is still deeply influential for a new generation of artists who embrace the unmonumental sculpture as a way of declaring their socio political concerns.
I remain admiring the inventiveness of her sculptures.
Isa Genzken: Retrospective November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014