Isa Genzken presents a new body of work that is displayed across the Piccadilly gallery; including the main gallery and mezzanine, as well as the American Room on the top floor which has been out of bounds for several years; and continues across the road in Swallow Street. At the exhibition’s core is a presentation of Genzken’s long-awaited architectural proposals for Ground Zero, the twenty first century’s most historically significant site. These proposals take the form of architecturally induced sculptures produced in consultation with a specialist team of engineers to ensure that each model can be realised to the approximate scale of the World Trade Towers. Running contrary to official designs, Genzken envisages buildings with a social purpose – a church, hospital, car park, disco, memorial and shopping centre. The emphasis being on community projects that might help emotionally regenerate the site, as opposed to office buildings or the kind of structures one might find in Dubai.
Genzken’s proposals exist in dialogue with the fantastical designs of Daniel Libeskind [visited link] and draw upon the artist’s long-standing love affair with America’s breathtaking cityscapes and all pervasive culture. With their glitzy, seductive surfaces, slim rectangular forms and frenetic energy, her works betray a fascination with the skyscraper. Earlier exhibitions such as ‘Fuck the Bauhaus. New Buildings for New York’ make explicit Genzken’s preference for the rigours of Miesian geometries and expensive materials over Germany’s more drab socialist experiments. New York represents a vital source of energy that she returns to again and again and which is intrinsically related to what she does: “To me New York has a direct link with sculpture.”
Not unlike the Manhattan skyline, Genzken’s structures are audacious and alluring in equal measure. They are shimmering and metaphorical, exquisitely physical yet aptly perceived as miniature representations of the world in which we live. Consisting of brightly coloured fabrics, outdoor parasols, sheet steel, mirror tile, saccharine photographs of animals and a plethora of household chintz, Genzken’s output is ultimately precarious: a hedonistic concoction in which clashing elements congregate and collide. Lurid swathes of vinyl, spray-painted toys and vandalised sofas conspire to simulate a contemporary environment in which the paraphernalia of modern living become unlovely harbingers of a violent new order. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh recently observed that Genzken’s work emits ‘an aesthetic of rupture, rubble, and architectural fragments’.
In recent years, Genzken’s work has become increasingly imbued with a political and symbolic urgency. In Oil, her installation for the German Pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale, splendour and misery, euphoria and disillusionment were interrelated. One of the most controversial and celebrated shows of the Biennale, Oil was considered to be the best exhibition of 2007 by several artists in Artforum including Elizabeth Peyton who described it as ‘devastating and poetic, concisely capturing the beauty and tragedy of the world we live in. That Genzken finds a way to make such huge statements in an abstract, nonliteral way while creating magically beautiful objects is monumental.’
Isa Genzken was recently chosen by Monopol magazine as the world’s most important artist. For over thirty years she has developed a radically variegated career that refuses to let the viewer know what to expect. She was born in 1948 in Bad Oldesloe, Germany and studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf whose faculty included Joseph Beuys, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and Gerhard Richter. She became known in the 1970s for a series of long, sensual structures she called ‘Ellipsoids’ which took the language of minimalism and made it curved. At a time when there were few successful female sculptors in Germany she showed at the influential Konrad Fischer Gallery, exhaustively adopting a succession of inimitable artistic idioms. Genzken has had solo exhibitions at major museums and galleries around the world. In 2007 her work featured for a remarkable third time in the ten-yearly Skulptur Projekte Münster and she represented her nation at the Venice Biennale. Genzken lives and works in Berlin.
An artist’s book focusing on the Ground Zero sculptures will be available from the end of April. Isa Genzken. Ground Zero will feature essays by David Bussel and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and is published by Steidl Hauser & Wirth.