BY Philipp Ekardt in One Takes | 10 NOV 20
Featured in
Issue 215

Isa Genzken’s Dressed Up Assemblage

Philipp Ekardt on a Genzken sculpture that reaches back into her own artistic biography

BY Philipp Ekardt in One Takes | 10 NOV 20

Isa Genzken, Schauspieler III, 3, 2015. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York, and DACS, London

There is a common misconception in textile arts and beyond that dressing doesn’t count as a technique of production, artistic or otherwise. Layering garments, arranging folds, adjusting fits – all are seen as secondary acts according to a doxa that states: ‘If you drape, you don’t make.’ Isa Genzken knows better. Let’s take a closer look at one figure from her Schauspieler III, 3 (2015): a child mannequin, clad in an oversize hi-vis orange vest, outfitted with an array of associations. Is it a construction worker? Or is the neon palette a nod to the nightlife subcultures of rave and techno, for which Genzken has always shown an appreciation? The colour prompts another reference to the artist’s work: the orange construction mesh in which she clad the German pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale for her show ‘Oil’ – a gesture that stripped away the building’s monumentality by disguising its domineering facade with optically vibrating, perforated layers. Genzken’s intervention also rebutted Hans Haacke’s iconic installation Germania (1993), for which the pavilion’s flooring was torn up and smashed in an act of overt aggression. Why physically destroy a form, Genzken asks, if vesting it can transform it just as well?

Returning to the small ‘actor’ in Schauspieler III, 3: a nearly square print is propped up against the mannequin’s legs, displaying a photo of the bust of Nefertiti, which Genzken has reproduced on several other occasions. Typically, assemblage relies on putting incongruous elements into adjacency to capitalize on an aesthetic of prominent discontinuity. Genzken’s works don’t plaster over the disjuncture between their constituents. Yet, as this figure shows, something else takes precedence here: the intense orange of the cheaply photographed bust of the Egyptian queen riffs on the colour of the mannequin’s vest; a shakily spray-painted silver arch – a halo, perhaps? – rhymes with the grid of the silver reflector straps that partition the garment (in turn, an echo of the gridded construction mesh). The crucial gesture here is one of dressing, of outfitting, too. In the work’s richness of formal references, Genzken reaches back into her own artistic biography and, with the most economic means, clads the mannequin in – and as – work.

‘Isa Genzken: Works 1973–1983’ is on view at Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland, until 24th January 2020.

Philipp Ekardt is a scholar and critic. He is the author of Toward Fewer Images: The Work of Alexander Kluge (2018) and Benjamin on Fashion (2020). He lives in Berlin, Germany.