William Kherbek reviews the latest exhibition by the artist famed for her totemic sculptures at Hauser and Wirth, London
You know you’ve finally cracked the mystery of the art review when you open it with a quote from the press release: “I have always said that with any sculpture you have to be able to say, although this is not a ready-made, it could be one”. Or so said Isa Genzken in a conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans. It’s not often a press release offers much in the way of prose, let alone ideas, but in consideration of Genzken’s new show at Hauser and Wirth’s Savile Row space, her notion of creating sculptures that can be mistaken for ready-mades seemed like a good place to start proceedings. Genzken is known for creating riotous sculptures composed of objects that you might find sitting on the pavement waiting for the rubbish collectors–or desperate passersby. Her new work extends this notion into the vast, rubbish-strewn pavement that is the internet.
Describing artworks is usually a futile task, but in the case of Genzken, it might be worth a sentence or two. In the North Gallery, a there is a sort of colonnade of sculptures composed of plaster busts of Nefertiti wearing cheap plastic sunglasses atop narrow, white plinths with images of the Mona Lisa overlain with Genzken’s own self-portrait at the base of the plinth. Along the other side of the colonnade, there are a number of MDF plinths upon which sit some seriously goofy furniture in various states of juxtaposition and decay. Between the rows of sculptures, there’s a kind of anti-red carpet composed of a variety of digital images from art history, war history, wallpaper patterns. and all the visual lay-bys in between. Yes, as usual, it doesn’t do the works justice, but all the more reason to have written out the descriptions: the objects exert a presence even when they’re (mis)represented by verbiage – however lucidly written.
“The sheer density of concepts and images alone is enough
to make the cavernous Savile Row space thunderous with aesthetic dialogues”
The sheer density of concepts and images alone is enough to make the cavernous Savile Row space thunderous with aesthetic dialogues. And so perhaps it is fitting to return to Genzken’s dialogue with Tillmans. In her statement, it seems Genzken is taking the classic Duchampian notion of the sculptural ready-made as her starting point, but her work, especially given the integration of digital images, plugs into the more contemporary expression of the ready-made, the internet meme.
It’s not only the individual elements of works that could be mistaken for ready-mades in Genzken’s work, it’s the entire structure of presentation, the images all seem so familiar they make you think “surely I’ve seen this before somewhere”. The Nefertiti sculptures in particular called to mind the cover of a book titled, “Introduction to Post-Modernism”, on which a statue, probably of the god Mercury, was pictured wearing a pair of Nikes. Points for mythological consistency to that art designer for not using Reeboks perhaps, but Genzken’s awareness of the ubiquity of these facile art-historical/late capitalism mash-ups elevates her work into the truly special kind of calamity it is: works so familiar you have to drop everything to get out and see them.
Isa Genzken runs until 12 January at Hauser and Wirth 23 Savile Row London W1S 2ET