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The first thing you seen when walking into Isa Genzken’s retrospective at MoMA is an array of mannequins dressed in clothes and materials found on the street. They are both deconstructivist and futuristic, adorned with hula-hoops, cement blocks, and Genzken’s own clothing. This introduction is a fitting one, considering that the remainder of the exhibition incorporates these exact materials into her paintings, sculptures, collages, and video installation.
To the untrained eye many of her pieces look like they were simply dragged in from the street, as leftovers from construction sites. Genzken’s body of work possesses a rare sense of independence that does not conform or strive to be categorized. From the seemingly minimalist painting series Basic Research to the rough cement sculpture series Fuck the Bauhaus, Genzken proves that she isn’t afraid to experiment with her approach. She has dabbled in a variety of mediums, though themes of modernity and urban architecture pervade all her work.
She has a keen interest in structure and engineering, and often uses unconventional materials in her work, such as resin, in ways that make the substance come alive. The Haube sculptures, for instance, appear as grotesque melted wigs. Many of her assemblages look like collections of detritus, almost intentionally inartistic heaps of garbage. The Empire/ Vampire series, a reaction to the events of 9/11, are aggressive, violently composed of glass shards, foil, metal, and wood.
Yet it is her collages that feel more personal and engaging. I Love New York, Crazy City, a scrapbook chronicling a year in New York, feels interactive yet in line with her demolition perspective. Slot Machine also feels intimate and funny at the same time. The X-Ray series are perhaps the most charming, as they display Genzken drinking and smoking, things not usually done in a hospital setting.
Many of her works are on view for the first time at the MoMA retrospective. “Isa Genzken” will be on view November 23, 2013 through March 10, 2014.