Isa Genzenken

Galerie Daniel Buchholz

Isa Genzken is known for the way she subtly relates her works to their environments, as well as for her complex, specific solutions and disruptive tactics. She has consistently employed materials from the realm of building construction: first wood and plaster, then glass and steel, and now concrete. Sculptures made of broken, shattered, and imperfect concrete are supported by delicate iron scaffolds. Genzken pours the concrete into wooden frameworks; when it hardens, she smashes it, then piles up the fragments again. Then the components are lightly spray-painted.

The manner in which the pieces are presented creates the impression of a perfectly composed imperfection. The pieces also evoke bunker ruins, the remnants of modern fictitious castles, and the collapse of modern buildings. In their forms and sizes, they are alternately grandiose and modest, hermetically sealed or provided with slits. These sculptures challenge the building in which they are placed (Cologne’s new gallery building, designed by O.M. Ungers), which is rigorously, almost monotonously square: the sculptures refuse to be subjugated by the architecture. A further challenge is posed by another sculpture in the exhibition: a huge iron-frame window, which leans against the wall. Originally, the piece was to have replaced the gallery’s existing window. But this plan was thwarted by the architect and the building owner, and the piece was placed in the gallery as a sculpture and as an emblem of resistance. In this way, Genzken writes footnotes to the old and constantly revived debates on functionalism.

The artist’s sculptures share a morbidity that is neither chic nor faddish. They force the viewer to make distinctions, that is, to learn; indeed, they are highly didactic. But their didacticism—like the concrete—is quite pointedly shattered and then pieced together again, without being defamed. On the other hand, Weltempfänger (World radio, 1988) demonstrates a sense of humor toward the artist’s concrete sculpture project. Built in the form of a transistor radio with a real antenna, and placed on the floor, it casts a dubious glance on issues of communicability and materiality.

The sculptures, installed high or low enough to enable viewers to peer into them, are neutralized and matched by the grayish-brown and greenish-black, medium-sized oil paintings. The frottage technique employed on the paintings is so cunning that, at first sight, they sometimes seem to be prints or painted photos. Once again the goal is compulsive and instructive: these are oil paintings! Genzken’s deft handling of oil paint, iron, glass, and concrete creates semantic shifts in the hierarchy, or empire, of materials, and the resulting constructions force the viewer to refocus his eyes and his perspective.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.