3.7.14 — Music for Airports
Isa Genzken comes with a lot of baggage. You know, the kind with wheels—that and some Samsonite, a locked attaché case, and whatever else comes to mind. At the Museum of Modern Art, through March 10, the landing on the way to the sculpture garden or atrium becomes an airport waiting lounge, only devoid of people.
Perhaps they have already taken off, for a few spacesuits circle overheard. Facing down, they have not lost their interest in planet earth. Other world travelers have moved upstairs, where Genzken’s retrospective has quite a welcoming committee just outside. Backed by posters from her past shows, a multiracial cast lolls around in masks, glitter, and all sorts of rude, awkward, or seductive poses. The mannequins could be attending a costume party, with the stipulation that attendees must create their own costumes from found objects. Their ragtag but familiar parts attest to a born scavenger.
They are also way over the top, but that is exactly why you came—and it is the subject of a longer review, in my latest upload. Packed to the gills with objects and personal history, the exhibition suggests the creativity, the excess, and the rootlessness of the international art scene at its very best and worst. Divided not quite chronologically into “chapters,” it also shows the German artist’s long-running obsessions and sudden changes of heart. For a decade now, that adds up to an obsession with consumer culture, human heartbreak, and life after 9/11. Why after 9/11? We shall see, but if you are looking for things to make all that much sense, you have come to the wrong retrospective.
Americans may know Isa Genzken, if at all, as the scavenger. She stood out in “Unmonumental,” the show that opened the New Museum on the Bowery, for a colorful, shiny elephant of rags, toys, art supplies, artificial flowers, and packing materials. One could picture her prowling Chinatown for whatever caught her eye. One could just as easily picture oneself taking the elephant for a ride. The whole show focused on an alternative to sculpture as monument or Minimalism, at the risk of producing little more than litter—or a disturbing monumentalism of its own. Genzken avoided both extremes.
She became for a while a fixture at the New Museum, with an oversized flower on the building’s front. An even stiffer and taller one stands erect in MoMA’s sculpture garden, although the astronauts have turned their backs. One could still mistake Genzken for an emerging artist—or at least a newcomer to New York. Well, surprise: her retrospective covers nearly forty years, dating back to a quirky but real immersion in Minimalism. And it comes to life around halfway through, when the minimal becomes maximal. But what if anything does it mean?
To see where she lands, one might fly back to the museum entry, with the astronauts. She describes them as visitors from another planet, astonished to explore a landscape in ruins. Yet she plainly enjoys the ruins, in full color, and she delights in the products of modernity, consumption, and design. She earned money for a while as a model, and she had her first major New York show in 2000 (although still at an artist-run gallery), with (pardon my language) Fuck the Bauhaus. The towers on pedestals, surrounded by toy cars, model trees, a pizza box, and a Slinky make fun of the stultifying ideals of the Bauhaus or Le Corbusier. Yet she also makes them her playground.
Are they pictures of loss or just images for mass consumption? Genzken seems both never to look all that deeply and yet never to turn away. One appropriated ruin even consists of airplane windows shut tight. Politics enters, as with a 2004 series on America as Empire/Vampire, but it is also impossible to pin down. One may see the ambiguity as restlessness or evasion, spontaneity or self-indulgence. For once, installation art has a human scale, even when real events may not.
|Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.|