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 Isa Genzken  (1948 - )

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Lived/Active: Germany      Known for: large-scale mixed-media installation, assemblage

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Known for column shaped or linear mixed-media* work, which includes photography, collage*, metals, and video, Isa Genzken is based in Berlin.  Some of her pieces are precise still lifes of random objects.  Her education includs the Hamburg College of Fine Arts from 1969 to 1971, the Berlin Unversity of Fine Arts, 1971 to 1973, and the Dusseldorf Arts Academy* from 1973 to 1977.

Exhibition venues include the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels.  In 2004, she won the Wolfgan-Hahn Prize at an exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

From 1982 to 1995, she was married to German artist, Gerhard Richter.


* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary:

Biography from Saatchi Gallery:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Urlaub, a work by Isa Genzken, possesses a ridiculous elegance, caught between high design and holiday festivity.  Drawing from the Minimalist concept of objective abstraction, Genzken’s work straddles the spheres of formalist purity and narrative interpretation.  Entrenched in the process of making, Genzken’s work is the result of her own intimate interaction with materials, tempering the procedure of formal decision-making with the spontaneity of imaginative play.  Kitsch objects such as plastic leaves, figurines, and an oversized wine glass carry their own associative references while operating as neutral compositional elements of shape, colour, and texture. Urlaub exudes escapist fantasy while retaining a refined order, culminating as surreal microcosm of caprice vs. rationale.

Exploring individual response to the built environment, Isa Genzken’s assemblages create suggestive space.  Plinths stand as neutral development zones for spontaneous construction; anonymous towers exuding power and autonomy become laden with the intrinsically personal.  In Mutter mit Kind, Genzken’s minimalist box is both domestic interior, and psychological projection.  Incorporating furniture, children’s toys, and a Madonna-like image, Mutter mit Kind poses as a disrupted altar, exuding a sinister element of vulnerability and instability.  The upturned chair on top doubles as a looking-glass, giving magical distortion to the fairytale figures within.

The column for Isa Genzken is a recurring motif: its linear purity becomes a critical field on which she explores the relations between art, architecture, design, and social experience.  In her most recent work, Genzken augments her usually svelte and sophisticated formalism to create assemblages of maximum overload. Bouquet explodes as unwieldy still-life: its plinth base defiled with spray paint, adorned with garlands, topped with a menagerie of cowboys and Indians warring under an ornamental flower arrangement.  Posed as a beautiful and grotesque requiem, Genzken’s sculpture references a shattered utopia, framing modernist architectural form as monument of hope and mourning.

Leaning against the wall as a series of towers or screens, Isa Genzken’s installations becomes simultaneously painterly and architectural: her giant mirror plates like translucent building facades, encapsulating reflections of the gallery interior within their chaotic framework.  Highlighting this illusion between flat and perceived space, Genzken collages her glass planes with pages torn from books, bands of tape, and dripping paint, creating a sense of weightlessness in their layered materiality. Repetitive grids, greasy lines, and candy coloured bars, become entangled as urban decay, devouring antiquarian images in its graffiti-like debasement. Titled Kinder Filmen 1, Genzken’s installation suggests information overload broadcast as disrupted transmission, her formalist excess presenting a break down of innocence.

Isa Genzken’s MLR (More Light Research) paintings are inspired by the work of 19th c. abstract artist Hilda of Klimt.  Borrowing spatial and composition devices from Klimt, Genzken couches these associations within her own research of architectural form and social negotiation.  Through this layering of reference, Genzken engages with ideas of modernity, feminine identity, and emotional loss.

Created from layers of lacquer stencilled over traditional canvas, Genzken’s MLR series conveys an industrial authoritarianism; the corrosive hues, laminated surfaces, and photo negative aesthetics lend a sense of historical power and import. Abstractly depicting acrobatic equipment in various states of motion, each of Genzken’s canvases is absent of figurative presence: this frozen moment of the gymnast’s release contains layered allegories of personal and ideological collapse.

This discord between the intimate and the systematic is heightened throughout Genzken’s MLR paintings. The mesh-like texture found in each image evokes connotations to the pixilation of print media, as well more threatening implications of wire fencing or chain mail. The generic repetition of the ring and chain motif paradoxically offers both ideas of freedom of movement and torturous restraint. Through these dichotomies, Genzken explores the impact of social construction on the individual. The sense of isolation, oppression, and grief within each MLR painting becomes emblematic of the human condition.

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