Isa Genzken

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Isa Genzken
Genzken in 2009
Born (1948-11-27) 27 November 1948 (age 74)
EducationKunstakademie Düsseldorf, Hamburg University of Fine Arts and Berlin University of the Arts

Isa Genzken (born 27 November 1948) is a German artist who lives and works in Berlin. Her primary media are sculpture and installation, using a wide variety of materials, including concrete, plaster, wood and textile. She also works with photography, video, film and collage.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Hanne-Rose[2] "Isa" Genzken (pronounced EE-sa GENZ-ken) was raised mostly in the small northern German city of Bad Oldesloe[3] and in Hamburg.[4] She studied fine arts and art history with Almir Mavignier and Kai Sudeck[5] at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts[6] (1968[5]–1971) and the Berlin University of the Arts (1971–1973). To pay her tuition, Genzken worked part-time as a model.[2][3] In 1973 she transferred to Arts Academy Düsseldorf while also studying art history and philosophy at the University of Cologne.[5] At the academy, fellow students included artists Katharina Fritsch and Thomas Struth.[5]

Upon graduating in 1977, Genzken taught sculpture at the academy. She married German visual artist Gerhard Richter in 1982 and moved to Cologne in 1983. The couple separated in 1993.[5]

Genzken has worked in studios in Düsseldorf, Cologne (designed in 1993 by architect Frank Tebroke);[7] for short stretches in the United States, in Lower Manhattan and Hoboken, New Jersey;[3] and currently in Berlin.[5] After her divorce from Richter, she moved from the Rhineland region back to Berlin.

Genzken has bipolar disorder[3] and goes through manic and depressive phases. She has frequently undergone treatment for substance abuse.[2]


Although Isa Genzken's primary focus is sculpture, she has produced various media including photography, film, video, works on paper, works on canvas with oil, collages, collage books, film scripts, and even a record. Her diverse practice draws on the legacies of Constructivism and Minimalism and often involves a critical, open dialogue with Modernist architecture and contemporary visual and material culture. Genzken's diverse work also keeps her from being predictable in her work. Despite Genzken's diverse work, much of her practice still maintains conventions of traditional sculpture. Using plaster, cement, building samples, photographs, and bric-a-brac, Genzken creates architectonic structures that have been described as contemporary ruins. She further incorporates mirrors and other reflective surfaces to literally draw the viewer into her work. Genzken also uses location placement methods to inflict emotions into her sculptor viewers by making her viewers physically move out of the way of Genzken's sculptor due to the placement of the sculptor.[8] The column is a recurring motif for Genzken, a “pure” architectural trope on which to explore relationships between “high art” and the mass-produced products of popular culture.[9]

In the 1970s, Genzken began working with wood that she carved into unusual geometric shapes such as hyperboloids and ellipsoids.[2] In the photographs of her Hi-Fi-Serie (1979), she reproduced advertisements for stereo phonographs.[10]

Bild (Painting) (1989) at the Museum of Modern Art in 2022

In 1980, Genzken and Gerhard Richter were commissioned to design the König-Heinrich-Platz underground station in Duisburg; it was completed in 1992. Between 1986 and 1992, Genzken conceived her series of plaster and concrete sculptures to investigate architecture. These sculptures consist of sequentially poured and stacked slabs of concrete featuring rough openings, windows and interiors.[11] A later series consists of other architectural or interior design quotations made from epoxy resin casts, such as column or lamp sculptures.[10] In 1986, Genzken's architectural references switched from the 1910s, 20s and 30s to the 1950s, 60s and 70s.[12] In 1990 she installed a steel frame, Camera (1990) on a Brussels gallery's rooftop, offering a view of the city below.[citation needed] In 2000, a series of architectural models roughly patched together, was inscribed with Fuck the Bauhaus. Later, in the series New Buildings for Berlin, which was shown at Documenta 11, Genzken designed architectural visions of glass high-rises.

The project entitled Der Spiegel 1989-1991 is a series of images comprising 121 reproductions of black and white photographs selected and cut from German newsweekly Der Spiegel. Presented in a non-sequential but methodical manner, each image is glued against a piece of white card and individually mounted in a simple frame. Whilst the images themselves remain caption-less, the dates in the series' titles offer clues about the artist's intentions.[13]

Her paintings of suspended hoops, collectively entitled MLR (More Light Research) (1992), recall gymnastics apparatus caught mid-swing and frozen in time.[14]

Starting in 1995, while in New York for several months, Genzken created a three-volume collage book entitled I Love New York, Crazy City (1995–1996),[10] a compendium of souvenirs from her various stays in the city, including photographs of Midtown's architecture, snapshots, maps, hotel bills, nightclub flyers, and concert tickets, among others.[15]

Rose (1993), in front of Leipziger Messe, Leipzig, Germany

One of Genzken's best known works, Rose (1993/7), is a public sculpture of a single long-stemmed rose made from enamelled stainless steel that towers eight metres above Leipzig’s museum district. The artist's first public artwork in the United States, her replica Rose II (2007) was installed outside the New Museum as part of a year-long rotating installation in November 2010.[16]

Genzken has also produced numerous films, including Zwei Frauen im Gefecht, 1974, Chicago Drive, 1992,[11] Meine Großeltern im Bayerischen Wald, 1992, and the video Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death, 2003.[17]

As an artist she published five portfolio styled books. Each including her expressive work, they can be purchased under David Zwirners Books website. Her books include Sculpture as a World Receiver, October Files, Isa Genzken: Retrospective, Isa Genzken: Oil, and Isa Genzken.

Untitled (2006), from the series Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2022

Since the end of the second half of the 1990s, Genzken has been conceptualizing sculptures and panel paintings in the shape of a bricolage of materials taken from DIY stores and from photographs and newspaper clippings.[18] She often uses materials that underline the temporary character of her works. As part of her deep-set interest in urban space, she also arranges complex, and often disquieting, installations with mannequins, dolls, photographs, and an array of found objects. New Buildings for New York are assembled from found scraps of plastic, metal and pizza-box cardboard.[19] The assemblages from the Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death series, originally comprising more than twenty sculptures that were created following the attacks of September 11, are combinations of found objects – action figures, plastic vessels, and various elements of consumer detritus – arranged on pedestals in architecturally inspired, post-destruction scenes.[20] Elefant (2006) is a column of cascading vertical blinds festooned with plastic tubes, foil, artificial flowers, fabric and some tiny toy soldiers and Indians.[21] For her installation Oil, the artist transformed the German Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale into a futuristic and morbid Gesamtkunstwerk.

Genzken worked frequently with Zwiner, who held her Paris New York Exhibition from August 29-October 10 in 2020. She had five solo exhibitions with him and this last one was her fifth. She has worked with him since 2010. The exhibition included Genzken's early work at the Kunstmuseum Basel. The installation of Genzken's recent "tower" sculptures. It was inspired by the artists decades-long fascination with architecture and urban skylines. She used multiple forms that include, vertical structures, of medium-density fiberboard with inclusion of a mirror foil, spray paint as well as other media.


University of Fine Arts, Hamburg, Germany, 1969-1971

University of the Arts, Berlin Germany, 1971-1973

Art History and Philosophy at the University of Cologne, Germany, 1973-1975

State Art Academy, Dusseldorf, Germany, 1973-1977

Teaching position for sculpture, State Art Academy, Dusseldorf, Germany, 1977-1978

Teaching position for design, Fachhochschule Niederrhein, Krefeld, Germany, 1978-1979

Genzken was a guest professor at Berlin University of the Arts in 1990, and at the Städelschule in Frankfurt in 1991–92.[citation needed]\

Genzken's impact[edit]

Genzken's work has undoubtedly impacted art culture through her unique ability to create sculptures out of many materials such as wood, plaster, concrete, steel, epoxy resin, and even household kitchen materials, as seen in her "Babies" semblance from 1997. Genzken redefined the art of creating sculptures and even combated discrimination against sculpture art in the 60s and 70s as she pursued her unique talent. Simply put, her work has been seen as an attempt to encourage and broaden the art of sculpture without eliminating it. Genzken's art and media have always stayed true to the logic of her work, which continues to be contradictory, unpredictable, and in opposition throughout the sculpture. Her sculptures have even been recognized as art that creates illusions with the mind and opens the imagination of the viewer.[22]


Genzken's first solo exhibition was held in 1976 at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Düsseldorf, and her first exhibition with Galerie Buchholz was in 1986 in Cologne. Her first solo show in the U.S. was mounted by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, in 1989.[23] Genzken represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 2007. She participated in the 2003 Venice Biennale and, in 2002, Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany. She was the subject of a major retrospective in 2009, jointly organized by the Museum Ludwig, Cologne and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. Other solo exhibitions in the past decade include Malmö Konsthall, Sweden (2008); the Camden Arts Centre, London (2006); the Photographers' Gallery, London (2005); the Kunsthalle Zürich (2003); and the Lenbachhaus, Munich (2003). Artist Dan Graham included Genzken's work in his "Deep Comedy" show at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, in 2008.[citation needed] Her recent shows included collaborative work with Kai Althoff[24] and Wolfgang Tillmans, in whose exhibition space "Between Bridges" she exhibited in 2008. She is the subject of Elizabeth Peyton's painting Isa (Isa Genzken 1980) (2010). In 2015/16 she organised the exhibition 'Mach dich hübsch' in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

From November 23, 2013 to March 10, 2014, "Isa Genzken: Retrospective" was on view at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition then traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Dallas Museum of Art.[25]


Genzken's work is included in the collections of many institutions internationally, including the Nationalgalerie, West Berlin; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo,[26] the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Generali Foundation, Vienna; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden; the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Ruby City, Linda Pace Foundation, San Antonio, TX[27] Rose III sculpture in Zuccotti Park, NYC.[28]


She won the International Art Prize (Cultural Donation of SSK Munich) in 2004 and the Wolfgang-Hahn-Prize (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) in 2002.[29]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Astrid Wege (2001). "Isa Genzken: The Impossibility of Communication". In Uta Grosenick (ed.). Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Century. Köln: Taschen. pp. 150–155. ISBN 3822858544.
  2. ^ a b c d Ulrike Knöfel (October 25, 2013), MoMA Retrospective: The Strange Brilliance of Isa Genzken Der Spiegel.
  3. ^ a b c d Randy Kennedy (November 21, 2013), No, It Isn’t Supposed to Be Easy New York Times.
  4. ^ Georg Imdahl (August 10, 2009), Ein Fenster zum Highway und eins zum Hinterhof Berliner Zeitung.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Isa Genzken: Retrospective, November 23, 2013 – March 10, 2014 Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  6. ^ "HFBK: HFBK Hamburg". Archived from the original on October 15, 2006.
  7. ^ Project List Frank Tebroke, Cologne.
  8. ^ "Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry". University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 34.
  9. ^ Isa Genzken: Kinderschirm (2004) Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
  10. ^ a b c Isa Genzken Generali Foundation, Vienna.
  11. ^ a b Isa Genzken: Everybody needs at least one window, May 14 – June 28, 1992 Archived April 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Renaissance Society, Chicago.
  12. ^ Isa Genzken, Guardini (1987) Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Afternoon Session, 16 May 2013, New York.
  13. ^ Isa Genzken: Der Spiegel 1989-1991, 7 October - 20 November 2005 Photographers' Gallery, London.
  14. ^ Isa Genzken, 17 February 2006 - 16 April 2006 Archived 6 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine Camden Arts Centre, London.
  15. ^ Isa Genzken: Retrospective, November 23, 2013 – March 10, 2014 Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  16. ^ Isa Genzken: Rose II (2007) Archived 2011-09-25 at the Wayback Machine New Museum, New York.
  17. ^ Isa Genzken. Lee, Lisa, 1978-. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2015. ISBN 9780262028417. OCLC 886380948.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ Isa Genzken Archived 2012-04-01 at the Wayback Machine Generali Foundation, Vienna.
  19. ^ Holland Cotter (July 12, 2002), Architectural Visions Keep Dreamers Awake New York Times.
  20. ^ Isa Genzken: New Work, February 10 – March 5, 2005 David Zwirner Gallery, New York.
  21. ^ Roberta Smith (November 30, 2007), In Galleries, a Nervy Opening Volley New York Times.
  22. ^ "Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry". University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 35.
  23. ^ Michael Brenson (December 1, 1989), From Chillida, Pillars Of Energy and Gravity New York Times.
  24. ^ Holland Cotter (July 7, 2011), ‘The Phantasm’ New York Times.
  25. ^ Foster, Hal. "Isa Genzken." Artforum 52.6 (2014): 204-206.
  26. ^ Contemporary women artists. Hillstrom, Laurie Collier, 1965-, Hillstrom, Kevin, 1963-. Detroit: St. James Press. 1999. ISBN 1-55862-372-8. OCLC 40869639.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  27. ^ "Isa Genzken". Ruby City. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  28. ^ Neuendorf, Henri (18 September 2018). "Isa Genzken's Monumental Steel Rose Rises in Zuccotti Park—Just in Time for the 10-Year Anniversary of the Financial Crisis". artnet News. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  29. ^ Phaidon Editors (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0714878775. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)