Review: Isa Genzken Retrospective at MCA Chicago

             The ISA Genzken Retrospective at the MCA Chicago brings together different aspects and periods of Genzken’s practice and leads the viewer towards a journey of how her practice has changed and evolved in different ways over the years.

            When you get out of the elevator or come up through the stairs the first works you see are the most recent works made in 2013 by Genzken. These Actors series are mannequins Genzken has dressed, collaged, combined and turned into sculptures. Being confronted by this piece before going into the exhibition I felt as though I was starting the novel from the end, and it was a very different experience to come back to these pieces after going through the whole retrospective. 

            One thing the exhibition did really successfully was to show the research and experimentation Genzken has been through during the different phases of her practice. This allows us as the viewer to understand her train of thought and her logic more and gives us a clearer picture of her interests throughout her career. In the first room of the exhibition there are two sets of sculptures Genzken has made during her school years and they are presented with drawings she made while researching for this sculpture. The same logic goes in each room of the exhibition like the concrete sculptures are presented with material investigation paintings or the Fuck the Bauhaus pieces are accompanied by the 2-d façade pieces she has made while experimenting for these pieces. 

            The exhibition is also curated in a way, which shows the viewer very clearly when and how Isa has moved on from the techniques of traditional sculpture into working with found materials and assemblage. While we are greeted by concrete and resin sculptures varying in size made in 1980s in the second room of the exhibition, when we move into the third room we see that found objects starts to enter into Genzken’s practice. In the piece called Gay Baby made in 1997, she brings together pieces from the kitchen and the toolshed as a way to combine masculinity and femininity. Again the Portraits; the tower sculptures in the same room brings together many interests of Genzken such as architecture and portraiture while introducing the use of found object. 

           The two rooms after the third one featuring works from the series Empire/Vampire: Who Kills Death?  and the Oil installation are more clear manifestations of how politics are an ongoing interest in Genzken’s practice. Empire/Vampire series were made after September 11, 2001 and they relate to both her experience of the event and the social aspects of this trauma. 

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        For me the final room of the exhibition; which consists works from the Ground Zero series made between 2008 to 2012 is the most effective room of the exhibition and it is the room in which everything Genzken is interested in comes together. In this room Genzken has sculptures portraying places such as hospital, church, disco, and car park. These works bring together all her interests such as architecture, politics, portraiture and working with found objects. In a way I felt as though I’ve been through a journey of Genzken’s interests and experimentations over the years and in the end everything comes together very successfully. I really enjoyed this show in the sense that it gives a clear portrayal of Genzken and the way she kept pushing, improving her practice while staying focused on things she has been interested in since her school years. 

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