Isa Genzken – Geldbilder – Hauser and Wirth, London

This review was first published on this is tomorrow

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Isa Genzken’s punkish sense of humour, I can happily report, is still very much alive and kicking after four decades of art-making. There aren’t a huge number of contemporary artists who’d be prepared to use their work to poke a bit of fun at the wealth behind ever-expanding, heavyweight gallerists Hauser and Wirth, while benefitting from a show in one of their substantial and sleek Savile Row spaces. Genzken, though, is as rebellious and tongue-in-cheek – towards the gallery that represent her and her own assured position as a high-value artist – as ever. You can see why they let her get away with it.

In her latest ‘Geldbilder’ paintings – all forty eight of which are entitled ‘Geldbild’ (money picture) followed by a numeral – she uses coins and notes of various denominations and currencies as painterly mediums. These are about as literal an artistic representation of capitalism as it’s possible to imagine, and the materials feel harsh and brashly employed here – euros and pounds are stuck onto their brazen, brightly coloured painted backgrounds in apparently abstract curves, piled haphazardly atop grass green scrawls, or made into the shape of a penis.

There’s some of her trademark self-reflexivity at play in these new works too. In ‘Geldbild XXIX’ (2015), she’s photocopied and affixed a press image of ‘Rose II’ (2007), her twenty-eight foot tall public sculpture that graced the façade of New York’s New Museum between 2010 and 2013 – one of her own contributions to the capitalist art world she’s critiquing. Swiftly spray-painted signatures and photos of Genzken herself are also used as ingredients in these wild assemblages, and only add to the impression that she’s fully tangled in the cogs of this particular machine.

Hauser and Wirth’s press focusses solely on the new paintings to the exclusion of the group of varied, radio-shaped ‘World Receiver’ sculptures (all 2015), that dominate the second of the space’s three rooms and punctuate the first. This is an odd decision on the gallery’s part, especially as these two bodies of work tick two very different (yet unmistakably Genzken-esque) boxes. While the paintings sit comfortably in the wilder, more daring work she’s only been producing since the late ‘90s, the concrete radios hark back to minimalist references she was making in the 1980s (as if to press the point, they’ve included a 1987 sculpture, ‘Tor’ – reminiscent of a piece of war-ravaged, slightly oversized architectural model.)

Despite the evident exuberance and intelligence of the ‘Geldbilder’ paintings, her three-dimensional pieces, I think, affirm her as more of a natural sculptor. They are humorous, incredibly varied in texture and form and pleasingly self-referential (she made a readymade of the same name using a real radio back in 1982).

Perhaps the self-assured, often self-deprecatory tone that runs through this show is something that’s come with time. After representing her country at Venice in 2007 and finally achieving wider acclaim in the States in a touring MOMA retrospective in 2013, the German artist can now safely be called an art world grande dame. Albeit one with a wild glint in her eye.

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