Located in the middle of the East End, London’s lively working-class and migrant neighborhood, the Whitechapel Gallery has always been much more than just a city district museum. The first Jackson Pollock show was mounted at the Whitechapel, and David Hockney and Gilbert and George were first presented to a large audience there. Freshly renovated and extended to include the rooms of the library next door, the gallery is celebrating its reopening with the Isa Genzken show Open, Sesame!. It’s the first large-scale retrospective of the work of the artist, who was born in 1948. This is astonishing, considering the fact that Genzken has been regarded as one of the most self-willed artists of our time since her assemblages from around 2000, if not earlier. In Empire/Vampire – Who Kills Death (2003), for example, she conjoins giant cognac snifters, fantasy plastic figures, and mirror film into fragile tableaus that are a mix of trash, glamour, and the apocalypse. She continued down this path with her installation Oil. For this work, the artist transformed the German Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale into a futuristic and morbid gesamtkunstwerk. Deutsche Bank, whose art collection has included numerous of Genzken’s works since the early 1990s, enabled her to realize this creation.
The suspended astronauts from the German Pavilion are now on view in London, as is Genzken’s answer to the architecture competition for Ground Zero, Hospital (2008), a bouquet of flowers standing on a pedestal, and her installation Straßenparty (Street Party, 2008), a mixture of carnival parade and death dance. The exhibition, staged jointly by the Whitechapel Gallery and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, presents the entire spectrum of Genzken’s work, ranging from her minimalist ellipsoids from the late 1970s, to her concrete sculptures, films, and photo works, up to her present works, assemblages and installations with which she reflects the contradictory social, political, and economic conditions of a world gone awry better than almost any other artist.
Isa Genzken: Open, Sesame!
Whitechapel Gallery, London
April 5 – June 21, 2009
Isa Genzken. Sesam, öffne Dich!
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
August 15 – November 15, 2009