Friday, January 17, 2014


Isa Genzken - reflections on her MOMA exhibition.

The Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts. Founded by Walter Gropius with the idea of creating a "total" work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together, it operated from 1919 to 1933 when the Nazis shut it down.

Isa Genzken’s stunningly moving retrospective both utilizes and repudiates Bauhaus legacy, brashly demonstrated by a seminal work entitled "Fuck The Bauhaus". Her retrospective surprised me with its range of experimental approaches, giving voice to a unique personal view of life – from the frottage oil paintings that looked like aerial views of bombed out/flattened terrains to the glitzy pedestal sculptures.

When I entered the Isa Genzken show at MOMA I was floored by the beauty of an installation depicting large formally pristine kayak-like shapes lying on the ground (“ellipsoids” and “hyperbolos”) – having no contact with one another, but hovering alongside each other with a do-not-touch-beauty that is rarified. Then I turn around and the aesthetic has shifted. I chuckle to see cement blocks anthropomorphized with T.V. antenna’s shooting out of their heads – inanimate becoming animate, making a point about materials – industrial materials in particular which often seem remote and inaccessible – but now like a magnet I approach what was once unapproachable.

The whole show is one of contradictions in the service of Isa Genzken’s singular humanity. She tosses off previous restraints, and I imagine her saying “fuck it – I NEED to do this!” And she does. Experimenting with materials – all kinds of detritus from the mechanical/manufactured culture to the throwaways of the consumer-merchandising sphere.

Scale dominates the show not only the physical but the psychological reaches of hierarchy and structure, often woven together - most evident in a group of building columns transmuting into intimate portraits of good friends – each subtly individualized. We are tossed around by architectural scale reduced to accessible mortal proportions.

American capitalistic scope and power is explored; the underbelly of shame and greed, the global reach of violence and mayhem are presented in assemblages utilizing whatever objects (toy cars, dolls, fast-food wrappers, etc.) and materials that are necessary to vent her anger at man’s inhumanity to man. These assemblages employ scale to great emotional effect ie: a building structure becomes larger because a small plastic tree is placed in the tableaux, delicate and fragile; a dreamlike ornament floats next to blood and terror. Installations are ripped from the headlines - the assault on a young schoolgirl being witnessed by her classmates’ cell phone pictures – a room reeking of horror and voyeurism.

Isa Genzken was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001 and there is a room devoted to her apocalyptic architectural proposals for Ground Zero that includes a Church, Disco, Hospital and Memorial Tower. Monuments that do not memorialize but instead bear witness to the act of destruction itself. In Car Park miniature cars are upended in a cage-like structure that is devoid of any possible movement or passage. The journey has ended.

Isa Genzken’s exhibition can be unabashedly gaudy wrapping the fragility and vulnerability of the human condition with the rubble and sediment of everyday objects. The result is painful and piercingly tender. The sadness enraptures.

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