The Isa Genzken retrospective opening on November 23 at MoMA is thoroughly depressing. Or at least I imagine it would be if you had ambitions to do something new, and wild, and materially-inventive, in today’s contemporary art world – since this show makes it abundantly clear that Genzken has probably done it first, and with more punk-inflected panache.
The German artist, who turns 65 at the end of the month, has crammed a crazy amount of experimentation into her career: computer-generated modeling way ahead of the curve; ponderous but noble concrete sculptures in the ‘80s, pre-dating a concrete renaissance happening right about now; cheap, pre-fab reflective mirrors and other surfaces turned into minimalist wall paintings; sprawling installations full of toys, plastic crap, all manner of brightly colored gunk. (It’s pretty interesting to think about some of them – tiny set-ups populated by toy soldiers and dismantled sneakers, among other things – contrasted with a work like Chris Burden’s 1981 A Tale of Two Cities, currently at the New Museum.
By all means, visit this show, on view through March 10, 2014. (Even if you simply peruse the opening installation – an assortment of augmented mannequin sculptures posed in front of a massive wallpapering of Genzken’s past exhibition announcements – it’ll violently recast the way you think about store window display while you’re shopping for the holidays.) But if you’re a working artist, prepare to be dismayed, or at least intimidated: she’s making some of the most aggressive, insane, and electrically-charged work around.
New Buildings for Berlin, 2004. Glass and silicone on wood pedestal.
Fuck the Bauhaus #4, 2000. Plywood, Plexiglas, plastic slinky, clipboards, aluminum light shade, flower petals, tape, printed paper, shells, and model tree.
Rot-gelb-schwarzes Doppelellipsoid ‘Zwilling’ (Red-Yellow-Black Double Ellipsoid “Twin”), 1982. Lacquered wood, two parts.
Bild (Painting), 1989. Concrete and steel.
Main image: Schauspieler (Actors) (detail). 2013. Mannequins, clothes, shoes, fabric, and paper, dimensions variable.
Photos: Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken. Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin; Courtesy David Zwirner Gallery, New York/London. © Isa Genzken; Courtesy AC Project Room, New York. © Isa Genzken; Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken; Photo: Jonathan Muzikar.