»Art is a game and the game has rules.«
– Theo van Doesburg
»Art is a game
and the game has rules.«
– Theo van Doesburg
Isa Genzken began a series of wall pieces in autumn of 2016 in her Berlin studio which she finished in summer of 2017. The resulting works don’t have titles. Isa Genzken sometimes smilingly calls them “tennis pictures” in conversation, but that’s all. They are collages, constructed from shop-bought tape and adhesive foil and mounted on industrially prefabricated stainless steel plates.
© Iza Genzken
From far away, these collages appear to be painted and are striking in the intensity of their colours. These polychromatic constructions create an aesthetic appeal which is enhanced by the interplay of the garishly bright yet also elegantly lush colours of the adjoined tape and foil as well as the brushed steel sheen of the background and the glitter of individual pieces of tape and foil.
The series is made up of individual groups of works. One encompasses 16 collages – of which each is 140cm high and 80, 90 or 100cm wide – made from two joined stainless steel plates. Everydiptych is joined to the other along its horizontal sides and has a similar dynamically geometric structure formed by horizontal and diagonal tapes and foils of varying number and width applied over the entire surface of the steel plates, at times crossed by strips and foils running vertically and diagonally.
Often exposing sections of the brushed steel background, these collages also feature the occasional personal photograph and other pieces of private paperwork such as invitations and receipts, counterbalancing the dynamic composition of the variously dense network of tape and foil with their static nature. These paper appendages also contrast with the predominantly horizontal nature of the diagonal lines, bringing them into a delicate balance with one another.
© Iza Genzken
Isa Genzken smiles and likens the dynamic way she covers steel plates with tape to the athletic dance-like movement of a tennis player. Like the trajectories shaped by the rhythm of strategically and intuitively played shots, the tape and foil reflect constructed yet also impulsive movement.
Horizontally combining two landscape formats to make a portrait format, juxtaposing two independently conceived surfaces and at the same time unifying them to create a larger entity, reiterates a process which, like applying tape and foil, is shaped both by reason and feeling; a process that does not subordinate one surface to another, but brings both into a dynamic balance.
The sense of joy elicited by Isa Genzken’s collages is quickly followed by a clearly tangible irritation. Contradictions arise. Although meaningless, different levels of meaning open up. The experimentally constructed panels are devoid of subject matter and yet can also be perceived as abstract. What is visible disappears behind the hidden whilst the hidden appears before the visible.
In her new wall pieces Isa Genzken again combines the radical nature of the readymade aesthetic that is characteristic of her work as a whole with earlier moments of the complex history of art in the 20th century. She continues to blend modernist art with anti-modernist art in her work. And in the unbounded chaos of the present she again finds allies opposing the sentimental pessimism from the time of the First World War.
Genzken’s use of shop-bought tape, like her smiling allusion to the athletic dance-like movement of her creative process, are a direct reference to Piet Mondrian and his boogie woogie pictures conceived in New York between 1942 and 1944. In these works he uses the tape – then new on the market – to overcome the rigour of his compositions, creating a new musical rhythm of the motif by shifting them back and forth. But it is already the so-called “new design ideas” of the Dutch De Stijl movement co-founded by Mondrian in 1917 that are reflected in the geometrically designed formats of Genzken’s collages.
Here the influence of another significant Dutch avant-gardist and co-founder of the De Stijl group is recognisable besides Piet Mondrian. In his “concrete” works, Theo van Doesburg was also committed to geometric and abstract reduction of lines and surfaces in pursuit of a functional purism.
© Iza Genzken
But whilst Mondrian emphasised clear relations between surfaces and a strict reduction of the pictorial language to horizontal and vertical lines, sticking with the dogma of the right angle and strongly rejecting diagonal lines, Theo van Doesburg’s approach foregrounded the significance of diagonal lines. The “elementism” that he applied theoretically to painting and architecture as well as to people and society aimed to enhance the dynamic expression of a picture, a similar project to Mondrian’s. The addition of sloping lines served to tone down the contrast between vertical and horizontal forces. He was not concerned with surface interactions, as was Mondrian, but with defusing tension.
"The cultivated man of today is gradually turning away from natural things and his life is becoming more and more abstract. As natural (external) things become more and more automatic, we see our lively attention turning more and more to internal things. The life of a truly modern man is neither purely materialistic nor purely governed by feeling. It's more like an independent existence of man's mind that becomes aware of itself. Modern man – although a unity of body, mind and soul – exhibits a changed consciousness: every expression of his life has today a different aspect, that is, an aspect more positively abstract.“ – Piet Mondrian
In her new works, Genzken combines constant grid-like presentation of the motif with the dynamic effect of diagonal lines, lending her collages a radical indifference through her use of industrially produced materials, as is typical for the readymade, whose key work “The Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp was conceived in the same year that the De Stijl movement was founded.
"I created them without intention, without any intention except to reject ideas. Every readymade is different. There is no common denominator between the readymades, apart from the fact that they’re all manufactured items. But a common guiding principle? No. Indifference. Indifference towards taste: whether in terms of photographic reproduction or in terms of well-made materials. The only common attribute is indifference.“ – Marcel Duchamp
Isa Genzken’s new wall pieces produce a rational, painterly and harmonious distribution of surface through a process of dynamic balance. Her new collages challenge the viewer with a material reality that seeks to do nothing but to represent in a tangible yet immaterial way an attitude toward life she creates through her work, which faces today’s turmoils without sentiment.