Magazine article Artforum International

Isa Genzken

Magazine article Artforum International

Isa Genzken

Article excerpt

KUNSTVEREIN BRAUNSCHWEIG/FRANKFURTER KUNSTVEREIN

The characterization of Isa Genzken as a traditional sculptor, along with the usual remarks concerning the heterogeneity of her method and the surprising breaks between her various bodies of work, belong firmly to the topoi of her reception. Genzken's approach, which includes recourse to photography, video, film, collages, and collage books, does, it's true, represent a continuous examination of the classic themes of sculpture: the ordering of masses and volumes; the relations between construction, surface design, and materials; the conception of and relation between objects, space, and the viewer. And regardless of the medium--from series executed in painted wood, plaster, and concrete to the more recent epoxy-resin hoods and lamps; assemblages of metal household utensils; and stelae--the artist questions the contemporary meaning of sculpture by taking up its vocabulary of forms, then expanding, discarding, and reinterpreting it.

What the "traditional sculptor" label can't quite capture, however, is Genzken's remarkable ruthlessness--the manner in which her work underlines the rejection of traditional understandings of sculpture and space while reflecting on and disclosing the specific circumstances of their production and reception. The integration of a range of references--personal, social, and institutional--with the question of the (im)possibility of exchange and communication constitutes the second pole of Genzken's working process. At times explicitly thematized, as in bodies of work like "Hi-Fi Series," 1979, "Ear Series," 1980, and "World Band Receiver," 1982, 1987-95, this dialectic is suggested indirectly even in the varying degrees of formal openness in her sculptures.

Different in conception but complementary in meaning, the exhibitions "Sie sind mein Gluck" (You are my happiness) and "Urlaub" (Vacation) in Braunschweig and Frankfurt, respectively, offer a concentrated look at Genzken's practices to date. The galleries at the classicist building in Braunschweig were spanned by a retrospective arc from Genzken's floor pieces of the late '70s and early '8os to the stelae she has produced for the past couple of years (the latter, divided among four rooms in a loose sequence, were the main focus of the show). While the horizontal expanse of Rot-graues offenses Ellipsoid (Red-gray open ellipsoid), 1978, and Hyperbolo "MBB," 1981, like Carl Andre's floor pieces, can be perceived by an observer only as he or she moves through the room, the columns, towering to nearly ten feet, offer a stark reminder of the medium's traditionally anthropomorphic orientation, which Genzken, further developing a Minimal mode, had once left behind. Almost all these vertical pieces take their names ( e.g., Daniel, Karola, Kai, and Dan) from figures in the artist's personal and professional life. Further undermining the work's upright, even architectonic solidity are two series of photographs in the final room of the Braunschweig show: shots of New York facades distorted through extreme perspectives, so that the buildings seem to have lost their balance.

While Genzken's stereometric floor sculptures share with Minimal art an interest in defining anew the relation between object and space, they are marked by their insistence on singularity. At the very least, the materiality of the wood lends the arrowlike bodies an organic dimension--an aspect that relativizes the fact that the works have their basis in the exactitude of computer-assisted mathematical calculation, even if this materiality can only be guessed at beneath the perfectly smooth enamel. …

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