A conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans
Wolfgang Tillmans: Chicago was the first city to have skyscrapers?

Isa Genzken: Chicago was the birthplace of skyscrapers; there was a big fire once that destroyed almost all the houses – at one fell swoop – and then they started building up. That’s how the first skyscrapers came about. Earlier than in New York.

W. Tillmans: It was because they invented lifts, wasn’t it?

I. Genzken: Yes.

W. Tillmans: I remember reading that once. OTIS invented them, I think, and that’s why there just weren’t any skyscrapers before that. But skyscrapers have always taken your fancy, haven’t they?

I. Genzken: I was twenty-one when I first went to New York, and I was so fascinated by the architecture and glad that something like that existed and that I was able to have this visual experience that I thought to myself, this is where I want to live. To me, New York had a direct link with sculpture – that must have been it. Although at twenty-one I wasn’t a sculptress yet, I was just starting my studies and I didn’t even know what I wanted to do.
New York is a city of incredible stability and solidity. And then the height of the buildings – that impressed me, like the people who always seemed a bit happier than the Germans in the street. When I came back to Germany it seemed to me that it wasn’t particularly nice, my visual surroundings – it was all so dreary.
And modernism hardly features at all in Germany. Ok, there was Bauhaus and there was this and that, but modernism is practically non-existent in architecture. You can see loads of modern architecture in New York: there was the Empire State Building in the thirties, then there were the Twin Towers… I mean, the Twin Towers were extremely modern…
The awful thing about architecture here is that everything, almost everything, is done in the cheapest construction style, the cheapest. They don’t make sure people use the best materials, they just use what’s cheapest. Just look at Potsdamer Platz, it’s like a piece of scenery! It’s all done so cheap, it could be in Cologne or in Tenerife… They would never allow something like that in New York, they just have an incredible sense of quality.

W. Tillmans: Well, perhaps one reason is that Americans don’t have a fear of wealth… They don’t have any problem building something really expensive, do they?
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