A major solo exhibition of works by Isa Genzken at Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland focuses on the architectural models for the artist’s outdoor projects, shown alongside related video works, sculptures, and paintings.
Responding loosely to the legacies of constructivism and minimalism, Genzken’s work engages with everyday material culture, including design, consumer goods, the media, and urban environments, to explore how contemporary aesthetic styles embody political and social ideologies. The eclectic, pioneering sculpture for which she is best known is often created in dialogue with architecture, in particular the legacy of modernism and the rise of corporate buildings in cities in the postwar period.
Included in the exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern are a number of models for important works of public art—both realized and unrealized—such as the large-scale flower sculptures Two Orchids, which was displayed in New York’s Central Park in 2016, and Ohr (Ear), a photograph of an ear that was printed on a large scale and installed on the side of the City Hall in Innsbruck, Austria, in 2002. Mimicking conventional architectural models with the artist’s public works affixed to or staged near them as a proposal, these works "attest to Genzken’s passionate involvement with architecture and her delight at working with the contracted space of the architectural model," as Yve-Alain Bois writes. Although they have formed a part of the artist’s practice since the mid-1980s, these works were not shown publicly until the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, when examples were included in the Central Pavilion exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor. The following year, the solo exhibition Modelle für Außenprojekte at the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn marked the first focused presentation of these sculptures. "The models … unleash a surprising sculptural power," Peter Lodermeyer wrote in a review for Sculpture magazine; "Such aesthetic completeness negates any assumption that a model-like portrayal of large-scale, and in some instances, gigantic, formats necessarily results in something dry and didactic.… They influence the viewer’s imagination immensely by contrasting context—elegantly abstracted portrayals of the environment kept to a neutral white—and the sculptures themselves—exactly rendered miniatures, highly detailed in terms of color and material effect."
This year, Genzken will be awarded the annual Nasher Prize by the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.
October 7, 2017–January 21, 2018
Isa Genzken is the recipient of the 2017 Kaiserring (or “Emperor’s Ring”) prize from the city of Goslar. Inaugurated in 1975 and judged by a panel of curators and museum directors, the prize is organized by the city of Goslar and the Verein zur Förderung Moderne Kunst (Association for the Promotion of Modern Art). Previous winners include fellow gallery artists Sigmar Polke, Bridget Riley, and Richard Serra. The news was published in Artforum.
An accompanying solo exhibition at the Mönchehaus Museum presented an untitled installation made in 2015 that is comprised of seven parts: four wooden towers and three columns incorporating a range of materials including mirror foil, glass, plastic flowers, spray paint, plaster, acrylic, woven polypropylene, medication instructions, coloured tape, photographs, metal clips, magazine covers, and paper. The exhibition also featured recent two-part works in which materials including photographs, printed paper and stickers are affixed to aluminium panels.
Organized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Isa Genzken: Retrospective was the artist’s first retrospective exhibition at an American museum. Featuring around 150 works, many of which were on view in the United States for the first time, the show covered forty years of Genzken’s practice in diverse media. The exhibition was curated by Sabine Breitwieser and Laura Hoptman at MoMA in collaboration with curators at the museums to which the show traveled in 2014—Michael Darling at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Jeffrey Grove at the Dallas Museum of Art.
As critical responses to the exhibition emphasized, New York has long been an important source of inspiration and material for the artist, who first came to the city in 1960; the exhibition included the work I Love New York, Crazy City (1995–1996), a three-volume scrapbook of architectural photographs, maps, hotel bills, receipts, flyers, and other souvenirs that Genzken began composing during a stay of several months. As Roberta Smith notes in a review of the show for The New York Times, "It is hard to imagine her work without the city’s skyscrapers, street life, trash and style, not to mention Canal Street and its rich vein of cheap shiny materials and job lots. . . . In the galleries, the works move in roughly chronological fashion, in distinct, often startling series, presenting an artist who seems to become younger and more vital with each decade, as her work becomes more spontaneous and grounded in reality."
For Peter Schjeldahl, writing in The New Yorker, "The show finds coherence in works that range from minimalist sculpture, charged with cryptic emotions, from the nineteen-seventies, to recent hilarious assemblages, featuring plastic toys and gussied-up mannequins, which secrete a steely aesthetic discipline. Unifying it all is a brash spirit that is strangely both celebratory and bedevilled. Genzken takes on the ideals of modern art and architecture along with the joys and the anxieties of life in contemporary cities."
A major catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition features texts by Sabine Breitwieser, Michael Darling, Jeffrey Grove, Laura Hoptman, Lisa Lee, and Stephanie Weber.