The German contemporary artist Isa Genzken works in Berlin. Her sculptures, paintings, and installations are difficult to categorize, but a central theme throughout is the interplay between sculpture and architecture. For more than three decades her stylistic diversity, using a wide variety of materials, has resulted in work that can be shiny abstraction or post-apocalyptic masses of consumer debris. She has been held in high esteem by younger artists who admire her radical fearlessness.
When she was young, she immersed herself in the art world of Berlin and Dusseldorf and later taught in Dusseldorf. The German art world then was mostly male, and in order to define herself she had to push against the male artists, one of whom was Gerhard Richter her former husband. In the late 1970s, she made Minimalistic wood sculptures, helped by a physicist who wrote the computer program to design them.
In the 1980s, Gengken’s untraditional work fell between sculpture and architecture, between actual size and scale models, and between pure abstraction and utilitarian objects. Her intimate, fragile, spare sculptures were made of plaster, reminiscent of architectural structures. Several years later she worked with concrete, which referenced not just the rubble that remained in German cities after the war but also the Berlin Wall. This was the beginning of her ruin aesthetic look that became even more chaotic over the next two decades.
In 1992, she made glassy epoxy and steel constructions that evoked windows and skyscrapers that recalled the Minimalism of her early works. But in the next decade her work veered into assemblage of disparate objects that could be both amusing and also frightening.
She has had dozens of solo exhibitions throughout Europe, especially in Germany, and her work has been the subject of her first long-overdue American retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2013-2014.