Critics’ Picks

Isa Genzken, Geldbild IV, 2014, bills, coins, flyer, acrylic on canvas, 39 1/2 x 19 5/8".

Isa Genzken, Geldbild IV, 2014, bills, coins, flyer, acrylic on canvas, 39 1/2 x 19 5/8".


Isa Genzken

Hauser & Wirth London | Savile Row
23 Savile Row
March 26–May 16, 2015

Money flattens all distinctions. For Isa Genzken’s “Geldbilder,” 2014, her series of “money pictures,” bank notes and coins are glued and fastened in raw form to her canvas in constellations, absent of meaning. Genzken hints at the autobiographical by including photographs of herself. We should make a parallel reading with Raoul Hausmann’s ABCD, 1923–24, where a bank note, in its diminished and hyper-inflated state, is assembled alongside a screaming portrait. In Genzken’s “Geldbilder,” like Hausmann’s work, the concrete particularities of a life are marshaled alongside the abstractions of the social. Money is precisely this force of abstraction.

On Genzken’s canvas, paint is quick and garish. Globs are shot straight onto the canvas or in some instances streaked and sprayed across the painting. The gestures are erratic. Her paintings are said to literally “hold” money, as if the surface were a wallet or pocket. In these pictures, however, use value is eclipsed by exchange value. Money begets more money. In the same breath, notes and coins operate as a painterly detail: an abstraction among other abstractions—pure visual equivalence. In some sections, notes and coins have been removed. What remains on the surface is a trace of a former presence.

The language of money is a language conceived without limits. Any desire can be purchased, no price too high. Money has a double valence: It is both a material thing and an abstract sign. Painting, at times, is envisioned in the same light. And yet the trouble with Genzken’s pictures is that they threaten to simplify interpretation: We should resist vulgar analogies (paintings = money / money = paintings). Genzken’s “Geldbilder” counters this logic. If these paintings hold anything, it is a desire that lacks specificity.