In her first solo show at Galerie Chantal Crousel, entitled ‘Mona Isa’, Isa Genzken presented sculptures and collages that evinced her unparalleled sense of materials. Although these works can be broken down into three discrete series, they reflect and interpenetrate each other, allowing specific figures to reoccur and recombine with others while constituting individual works.
An important part of Genzken’s work of recent years is a continuing series of sculptures involving pedestals which are pronouncedly part of each piece and on which objects are positioned at a point of instability, suggesting a state of perpetual flux where every element is subject to change. Each of the three pedestal pieces — Rutsche (Slide, all works 2010), Pei and Kontrast (Contrast) — have wheels and are easily moved around; two Perspex designer chairs were nested into one another to strike a precarious balance. In Ambulance, a soft toy monkey sprayed with red paint holds on for dear life to the top of a pedestal (which is covered with various knick-knacks, such as a plastic boat, blank CDs and various toy figurines), his body dangling off the side. By way of an allusion to King Kong on top of the World Trade Center, this scene perhaps references 9/11, a subject that has previously occurred in her work. For these pedestals could also have represented tall buildings, another recurring theme for Genzken. Titles such as Hotel and Bibliothek (Library) supported this reading.
Two pedestals hung horizontally from the ceiling and were made of translucent polycarbonate and bronze-coloured acrylic sheets respectively. Though their titles Lautsprecher (I) and Lautsprecher (II) translate as loudspeaker, they transmit no clear message. With pedestals morphing into buildings and morphing into speakers, and modernist chairs arranged to be unsuitable for sitting, Genzken duped the notion that form can anchor content, let alone follow function.
A series of four collages entitled ‘Fassade’ (Façade) hung in a separate room. They consist of photo reproductions, words, random strokes of spray paint and reflective material, all placed on clear Perspex sheets screwed to the wall. These two-dimensional works often have a pattern-like appearance, which is disturbed by graffiti marks. Illegible or obstructed by other elements in the collages, the spray painted words are disconnected from their signifying role to become free-floating splotches of colour. In Fassade III (Laurel und Hardy), for example, the letters DU (you in German) begin a word or sentence which is then covered by mirrored tiles. Placed at eye level above two headless bodies, presumably those of the comic duo, the mirror tiles bring the viewers face into the composition. The spectator doesnt see herself as an organic whole, unified with her surroundings, but as a part of a larger, fragmented whole.
Another series of collages entitled ‘Mona Isa’ brings together images of the artist with that of Leonardo da Vincis famous Mona Lisa (c.1503—19). In her answers to a questionnaire published in frieze (Issue 99, May 2006), Genzken stated that she was attracted by the ambiguity of the painting: Mona Lisa, was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, although shes actually a man as well as a woman a disguised self portrait of Leonardo. In works such as Mona Isa VIII (4 framed pictures), Genzken has superimposed androgynous images of herself on reproductions of the painting. This encounter does not synthesize the two into a seamless unity. Rather, a monstrous hybrid emerges in which the artists hand punctures Mona Lisas chest and the artists ear sprouts from her head. Within the exhibition, the unstable confluence of Genzken with Mona Lisa continued with a non-linear series of provisional assemblages that link a self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer (1498), Leonardos The Virgin and Child with St Anne (c.1508) (for Sigmund Freud, the Virgins cloak appeared to morph into a vulture, which he read as a sign of the painters homosexual tendencies), Caravaggios Medusa (c.1596—98) (in Freuds reading, Medusa signified the castration complex), various dogs, an elephant, Michael Jackson and a worker from Ground Zero. In Genzkens vertiginous vision, various assemblages do not follow a necessary logic but rather proceed through loosely connected associations (of objects and ideas) which slip and slide, always on the verge of falling. Everything remains in a fluid state where an infinite number of new combinations could occur and where fixed identities cannot possibly endure.