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– Spring/Summer 2000

Isa Genzken's Outdoor Sculpture

David Bussel

Isa Genzken, Säulen Mixed media, 320 x 19 x 24 cm/ 320 x 20 x 24 cm/ 320 x 27 x 27 cm, 2000. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin.

Isa Genzken, Säulen Mixed media, 320 x 19 x 24 cm/ 320 x 20 x 24 cm/ 320 x 27 x 27 cm, 2000. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin.

I enjoy connecting things that were previously isolated; this contact is similar to a handshake between two people.
- Isa Genzken

There is a remarkable photograph of Isa Genzken taken in her Düsseldorf studio in 1982. In it she is holding one of her hyperboloid sculptures and is standing amongst others that rest on the floor but extend beyond the picture's frame. These linear wooden sculptures which measure approximately 600 centimetres appear surprisingly lightweight for their formidable size. Indeed, photographed from below the image confers upon the artist a sense of omnipotence, a mastery over her objects as well as the viewer. The photograph can be seen as a re-inscription of the traditional 'artist in their studio' narrative where aesthetic labour is meant to be conceived. Here, against the grain of the venerable male sculptor in situ, we are presented with a female artist, coolly returning our gaze, unencumbered by the 'unwieldiness' of her artistic practice, of the objects she makes and the role she is rewriting.

The picture signals a literal shift in the orientation of the work from the horizontal to the vertical. It also rehearses a shift in the artist's use of materials and the exploitation of site-specificity in the work. The most striking instance of this is Genzken's ongoing engagement with outdoor public sculpture.

In 1987 Isa Genzken presented her first outdoor work. Entitled ABC, the piece was commissioned by curators Kasper Köning and Klaus Bussmann for the Münster Sculpture Projects and was installed adjacent to the city's university library.1 The title ABC references the group of Swiss-based architects from the twenties including El Lissitzky whose Proun Room (1923) inaugurated what Benjamin

Footnotes
  1. The work was subsequently destroyed after the exhibition.

  2. See Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Isa Genzken: The Fragment as Model, in Isa Genzken: jeder braucht mindcstens ein Fenster (exh. cat.), Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 1991

  3. See Isabelle Graw, Free to be Independent. Concessions in the Work of Isa Genzken, in Isa Genzken. Met Life, Vienna: E-A Generali Foundation, 1996

  4. B. Buchloh, op. cit. See also Hal Foster, 'The Crux of Minimalism', in The Return of the Real. The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996

  5. B. Pelzer, in I. Graw, op, cit.

  6. See Klaus Honnef, 'The World of Isa Genzken', in Isa Genken (exh. cat.), Munich: Verlag Silke Schreiher, 1988

  7. Quoted in Isa Genzken. Caroline Van Damme (exh. cat.), Deurle: Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, 1998

  8. Ibid.