I never heard of Isa Genzken, apparently “…one of the most important and influential female artists of the past 30 years.” according to the Museum of Modern Art. So I was seeing her installation, at the beginning of a retrospective of her work, without knowing anything about her. As I slowly walked past the strangely dressed mannequins doing odd things, I got a feeling that this was an artist that felt she could do anything she wanted. The installation had a fuck-you confidence that I found annoying. Partly, because it all seemed too easy and partly because I was envious of that kind of confidence.
But as we walked through the many rooms filled with Genzken’s work I began to see the story of her art. How the materials and forms that she was working with in the 1980’s led to the work she is doing now. I could see her art in context, how one piece informed the next. And it all began making sense to me, not so much in an intellectual way, but in a visual way.
And as we came full circle, exiting the retrospective at the installation we began at, I realized that I now found Genzken’s confidence thrilling and admirable. It got my heart pounding and my brain buzzing. That “easy” installation made sense to me. It spoke of the human body as the ultimate form, as architecture, embellished to represent the disposable, consumer society we live in. But it goes beyond that, in ways I don’t have words for. I didn’t find it angry or dogmatic but sympathetic to our plight.
Mostly I love the way seeing the whole retrospective changed how I felt about the installation. That I was able to open my mind and that it allowed me to leave feeling the exact opposite of how I felt walking into it.