Isa Genzken is the artist representing Germany for the 52nd International
Art Exhibition of the Biennale in Venice.
For more than thirty years, Isa Genzken, born in 1948, has been producing a diverse oeuvre, continually refined with new twists. Her extensive body of work includes sculpture and installations as well as photographs, collages and films.
A central feature of her work is the selection and combination of various, or variously decorated, materials, which she sources from hardware stores, architectural suppliers and large department stores. Isa Genzken used to employ wood, plaster, epoxy resins and above all concrete – the materials of Modernism – but today uses primarily plastic, synthetics and various mirrors as well as everyday objects and consumer goods such as chairs – design classics alongside cheap camping chairs – clothing, kitschy figures and plastic dolls and animals.
Genzken is creating an exhibition for the German Pavilion in Venice which takes up the architecture of the building, steeped in history, and presents it in a mise-en-scène that also comments on it. Her new work resists, as usual, a visual idiom that could be charged with national attributes of any sort. Nevertheless, it contains motifs that can be traced back to the post-war history of West Germany in a way that is typical of the generation to which Isa Genzken belongs.
The ideals of modernism and their re-encoding in popular culture, as expressed above all the art and everyday culture of North America, undergo a metamorphosis in Genzken’s entry for the Biennale, in which splendour and misery, euphoria and disillusionment are closely related.
The title of the exhibition in the German Pavilion, Oil, should also be understood in this sense. Oil deliberately refers to different levels: On the one hand, the title explicitly states how the raw material oil, over which people across the globe struggle, determines present social, political and economic interests as well as their effects. On the other hand, abstract, visual, phonetic, sensory, and material metaphors are created: Oil is an expression of the time in which we live and reduces complexity to a symbolic image which, by no means coincidentally, employs various slogans and both becomes the crisis scenario of the future and is stylized into an expression of freedom and wealth.
The Commissioner of the German Pavilion in 2007 and Director of the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, Nicolaus Schafhausen, selected Isa Genzken in the summer of 2006 because she is “one of the least conformist artists of our time and captures this time like few other contemporary artists. Isa Genzken is a sculptor. This seemingly simple observation becomes comparatively complex in relation to her work since she simultaneously questions and affirms the classical conception of the genre. She has never sought linearity but rather always radically transformed her artistic praxis.”
“For the German Pavilion it is about fundamental questions of the relationship of space, of location and observation, of insight and view. For the observer it opens up complex and new sensory connections; with her works she is discussing precisely what truly moves and touches us as a society today.”

In a conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans, Isa Genzken described what a sculpture should look like in her view: “It has to have a certain connection to reality. That is, not something fanciful, much less planned out, so out of place and polite ? a sculpture is really like a photograph: it can be crazy, but it always has to have an aspect like the one reality has.” (in: Camera Austria, no. 81 [2003], pp. 7–18)
The catalogue, published by DuMont, is the official publication for the German entry for the Biennale in Venice for 2007.
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A text by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh l A conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans