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MCA Chicago sets itself apart by setting up retrospective of Isa Genzken

Isa Genzken appears in her own films which are included in her retrospective at MCA Chicago through August 3, 2014.
Isa Genzken appears in her own films which are included in her retrospective at MCA Chicago through August 3, 2014.
© Isa Genzken

Isa Genzken: Retrospective


An average-shaped filmmaker strips down to her naked self and exchanges clothes with a model-like woman. On another screen, the same female glams it up with her gay male friend. These scenes are surrounded by self-portraits and images of New York.

No, this isn’t a preview for the next season of Girls. Though it’s conceivable the show’s creator Lena Dunham was inspired by Isa Genzken since the contemporary German artist, whose work was just described, has made an impact on auteurs across several mediums via her ever-changing body of work.

Ironically, despite being influential and internationally-renowned, Genzken is hardly a household name in the United States. But the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago is rectifying matters by staging the country’s first retrospective of the artist’s 40-year career.

Covering the fourth floor of MCA Chicago, the exhibition is thematically arranged in chronological order to showcase nearly 100 works of art—starting with Genzken’s Minimalist floor sculptures from the 1970s and concrete constructions of the 1980s, moving to her architectural and assemblage forms from the 1990s, with 2013’s Actors placed along the perimeter.

The show also includes Genzken’s photography, paintings, collages, books, film, and installations which offer glimpses into her specific lifestyle and circle of friends as well as providing broader commentary on man’s earthly destruction. From her deadpan self-portrait X-Ray (1991) to her deathly Oil XI (2007) installation, Genzken offers both a sense of humor and horror to the well-punned pieces.

Her attention to titles is most evident in F*ck the Bauhaus which simultaneously reveres and rejects past conventions as does Genzken’s career. Constantly reinventing herself by literally building her work up and breaking it down has made her one of the most important artists of her generation.

To fully understand Genzken’s influence, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator Michael Darling leads a tour of the exhibition at noon today for Illinois residents and guests with museum admission. Artist Simon Denny and University of Chicago Chair of Art History Christine Mehring will also discuss Isa Genzken's work at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 8; tickets are $10. Another MCA Talk with Lisa Lee, Collegiate Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago and essayist for the Isa Genzken: Retrospective catalogue, is fee with museum admission at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 10.

The exhibition runs through August 3, 2014 at MCA Chicago on 220 E. Chicago Avenue. For more information, visit