It must have taken no less of a Herculean hysteria to actually assemble and enunciate a vocabulary of feminist sculpture in the land of the Masters — a task that Genzken performed with a dogged and eventually triumphant obstinacy that associates her with her admired fellow Hanseatic elder Hanne Darboven. Yet, typically, just when Genzken had fully formed that vocabulary in her wooden hybrids — ranging from paeans to the utopian promises of luminously colored biomorphic abstraction and proto-utilitarian mechanomorphic devices for submarine and extraterrestrial locomotion — she abruptly canceled all continuity and abandoned the holistic splendor of her immaculate conceptions in favor of an aesthetic of rupture, rubble, and architectural fragments (at the very moment her work — included in the 1982’s documenta 7 — had finally become widely visible).
This sudden inversion signaled yet another schism, or a double reversal, in Genzken’s sculpture. First of all, her new work now negated the Constructivists’ confidence in an alliance of sculptural and techno-scientific rationality that American Minimalism had proudly presented as salvaged. In acts of almost programmatic dis-identification, Genzken now severed all ties with American-type abstraction, its colors and its morphologies. Negating her sculpture’s perfectly executed stereometrical forms, she opted in favor of an aesthetic of dispersal and dissemination (of monochrome gray matter such as cement and concrete) and of architectural fractures. These were the very principles and materials she now rediscovered as having governed atopian objects and spaces from Kurt Schwitters to Beuys.
Genzken’s return to the local idioms was prompted furthermore by the fact that her once utopian models had reached the size and scale of public space and the condition of simultaneous collective perception that all serious sculpture in the twentieth century had aimed for. Probing the credibility of her commitment to such utopian aspirations under the conditions of postwar Germany, Genzken now reverted to the melancholy of ruined interiors and fractured bunker shards. Not only negating any notion of an innate sculptural dynamic toward architecture and collective public experience in the present, her ruinous refusals assaulted the governing codes and prevailing conditions of German reconstruction architecture in all its misery.
Her early forays into photography were equally astonishing and even less recognized. Having been engaged at the academy in dialogues with the soon-to-be-prominent members of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s class — in particular, Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth — Genzken produced Hi-Fi, 1979, an extraordinary series of photographs that presaged her future, deployment of endless accumulations of mass-cultural imagery in collage books as an integral complement to her sculptural disarticulation of the terror of the daily object world. In this series, Genzken traced the most seductive — rigorous — designs of what was then contemporary Japanese stereo equipment (in manifest opposition to the Becher school’s fixation on architecture) as a visual regime in which all avant-garde aspirations for the transformation of everyday life now lay entombed.
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