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'Isa Genzken: Retrospective' at MCA Chicago eerily reflects reality

Early works shown as elongated horizontals
Early works shown as elongated horizontals
Jodie Jacobs

Step into the world of Isa Genzken at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and realize it is also your world. Exhibited now through Aug. 3, 2014 in “Isa Genzken: Retrospective,” the full range of sculptures, paintings, photographs, films and collages by the famed German artist repeatedly reflect a Chicago dominated by skyscrapers, a New York affected by 911 and two countries, Germany and the United States, driven by politics, corporations and consumerism.

Isa Genzken, "Empire Vampire III 13" 2004, Collection neugerriemschneider, Berlin, installation view at 52nd Venice Biennial, Venice, at German Pavilion.
Isa Genzken, "Empire Vampire III 13" 2004, Collection neugerriemschneider, Berlin, installation view at 52nd Venice Biennial, Venice, at German Pavilion.
(C) Isa Genzken, courtesy the artist and Galerie buchholz, Cologne and Berlin

There is also a personal side exemplified by hanging rings that could be in a gym or above a hospital bed that are ominous and at the same time, hopeful, pull-up aids. A pair of sculpted heads that although near each other, don’t seem to communicate.

They are among the many works done by Genzken from the 1970s to now. Spread across the MCA’s fourth-floor special exhibit space starting on the right (south), the works follow Genzken’s artistic exploration beginning with such 1970’s experimental, single and small group installations as grey, cement block renderings of building and sound and video equipment. Lacquer-colored elongated wood sculptures horizontally-laid on the floor also mark this period.

In the 1990s, her architectural installations become open steel and resin windows. In the early 2000s, the elongated sculptures are now colorful vertical columns named for people.

Her view of the Bauhaus style is expressed in a late 1990s sculptures series, “F… the Bauhaus.” Architecture continues to fascinate Genzken as structural and social commentary. Sleek, mirrored glass buildings that reflect become her “Social Façade” series in early 2000.

On the north side of the exhibit space is her more recent and chilling “Empire /Vampire” series influenced by 911 and the Iraqi invasion. It is followed by the nationalistic and consumer oriented "America Room" and the large, eerie, “Oil XI” installation of suitcases, owls and astronauts that seems to beg the question of who protects whom and what does the future hold.

Maybe her answer is the pseudo, people as actors 2013 series that fronts the exhibit.

Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas, the Isa Genzken exhibit opened at MoMA and will move to Dallas in September.

Details: “Isa Genzken: Retrospective,” now through Aug. 3, 2014 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. For more information visit MCA Chicago or call 312-280-2660.