Isa Genzken: Biography

Isa Genzken's work draws upon everyday material culture, including design, consumer goods, the media, architecture, and urban environments. Widely recognized for her significant, pioneering contribution to sculpture, her prodigious oeuvre also includes paintings, collages, drawings, films, and photographs, and frequently incorporates seemingly disparate materials and imagery to create characteristically complex, enigmatic works. Drawing loosely on the legacies of Constructivism and Minimalism and often involving a critical, open dialogue with modernist architecture, Genzken interrogates the way in which common aesthetic styles come to illustrate and embody contemporary political and social ideologies. 

Born in 1948 in Bad Oldesloe, Germany, Genzken studied fine arts, art history, and philosophy in Hamburg, Berlin, and Cologne, before completing her studies at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1977. Her first institutional solo exhibition was held in 1978 at the Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst in Bremerhaven, Germany. 

Genzken’s work has been the subject of many major museum exhibitions, including traveling surveys organized by the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, Germany (1988; traveled to Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, both 1989); The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1992; traveled to Portikus, Frankfurt; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; Städtisches Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, all 1993); Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Germany (2002; traveled to Kunsthalle Zürich, 2003); and Whitechapel Gallery, London (2009; traveled to Museum Ludwig, Cologne). 

Other venues which have hosted important solo exhibitions include the Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany (2000); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2002; organized by the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst on the occasion of the artist receiving the Wolfgang Hahn Prize); Camden Arts Centre, London; Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck; Secession, Vienna (all 2006); and Museion, Bolzano, Italy (2010).

In 2013, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, organized Genzken’s first American museum survey, Retrospective, making it the most comprehensive presentation of her work to date, encompassing all media from the past forty years. The show traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Dallas Museum of Art in 2014. Also in 2014, Isa Genzken: New Works was presented at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria, and subsequently traveled to the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt. In 2015, an extensive survey of Genzken’s work was presented by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. The show traveled to Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin in 2016. In 2019, Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland presented a solo exhibition of the artist’s work. In 2020-2021, Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart presented the exhibition Isa Genzken: Works 1973 – 1983, which traveled to Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. Also at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Isa Genzken: Here and Now was on view in 2021.

In 2017, Genzken received the Goslarer Kaiserring (or the “Emperor’s Ring”) award from the city of Goslar, Germany. An accompanying solo exhibition was on view at the Mönchehaus Museum Goslar. The artist is also the recipient of the 2019 Nasher Prize, awarded every April by the Nasher Sculpture Center, in Dallas.

Her work has been prominently featured in international biennials and group exhibitions such as documenta (1982, 1992, and 2002); Skulptur Projekte Münster (1987, 1997, and 2007); and the Venice Biennale (1982, 1993, 2003, 2007, and 2015), where she represented Germany in 2007. 

Since 2004, her work has been represented by David Zwirner. In 2021 the artist had a solo exhibition at the gallery's Hong Kong location, and in 2020 a solo exhibition at the gallery's Paris location. Previous solo exhibitions have been held at the gallery in New York in 2005, 2007, 2015, and 2018.

Work by the artist is represented in museum and public collections worldwide, including the Dallas Museum of Art; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Genzken lives and works in Berlin.

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