The range and variety of the work of Isa Genzken (born in 1948 in Bad Oldesloe, Schleswig Holstein) continues to surprise. Since the 1970s, the artist has made baffling changes in her work while at the same time developing a consistent oeuvre. Her artistic practice comprises photography, film, painting and works on paper, yet her central interest is in the potential of sculpture, in the sculptural aspects and the architecture of things.
How do architecture, design and artworks influence an environment, how do they shape one’s perception of oneself?
Questions about the relationship between the individual and the world are what she gives expression to, for instance in the many works that take up the image of the window. Genzken’s works can be small and model-like or, as in the case of works for public spaces, take on monumental dimensions. Sculptures that work in an interior can often be thought of as enlarged in the viewer’s imagination.
Genzken has moved with the times, yet at the same time developed a remarkably independent oeuvre – an approach that has caused her to exert an influence on younger artists that is hard to underestimate. In the 2003 video Warum ich keine Interviews gebe / Why I don’t give interviews, the artist Kai Althoff asks Genzken about her stated demand that her work be “modern”. In her beginnings the artist still reflected on modernism and its offshoots, but with respect to her current work the term refers rather to its seeming timelessness.
The exhibition focuses on a presentation of close to forty models for her outdoor projects since the 1980s. They are works for public and private outdoor spaces, which in many cases were realized, in others not. They show the sensitivity, precision and sense of poetry and humor with which Isa Genzken responds to urban spaces and architecture in her works and proposals. Yet the models also give rise to narratives about the architectural challenges and hurdles associated with public art, about the battles to be fought and the sensitivities of those who decide about their realization.
Moreover, the models reflect how Isa Genzken’s work changes over time and what materials she is interested in at various stages. In the exhibition, the models are complemented by a selection of related video works, paintings, collages and sculptures. These provide a broader perspective on Isa Genzken’s fascination with urban spaces, their façades, the sculptural qualities of architecture and the architecture-related aspects of sculpture. In the video works in particular we think we witness Genzken as a human being, and perhaps we actually do. Even more, however, these theatrical stagings demonstrate how even the seemingly random and improvised in her work invariably involves the question of the possibilities, the boundaries of art. They are dramas in the classical sense in which the character is never able to speak directly but only in the translation through the form of the mask.
Photos by Gunnar Meier