ISA GENZKEN 'OPEN SESAME' at The Whitechapel Art Gallery
5th April - 21st June 2009 Admission free
A turbulent new voice of German sculpture launches the brilliantly expanded Whitechapel Art Gallery, re-opened to an eager audience in April. It's a kind of split identity exhibition that assaults the senses and kicks into the imagination. A graduate of the Berlin and Dusseldorf academies in the 1970s Genzken's sculptural playground bears the hallmark of Professor Joseph Beuys, in her direct acknowledgement of raw material, concrete, aluminium plates and epoxy resin moulds, transformed with quirkish surreal touches.
The first phase works through ideas of transmitters, in photo-pieces made from display ads for the elegant 1970s sound systems by Bose and Hitachi, which now appear like charming period pieces. Genzken absorbs details like the velvet black platforms of empty turntables, mirrored by a large photo-piece 'Ear' 1980; a close-up enlargement recording delicate levels of the beautiful natural form brushed with blown strands of golden hair.
Genzken engages in a concentrated discourse with aspects of classic abstraction, claiming her links with 20th century pioneers, not least Picasso's synthetic cubist assemblages. The concrete blocks set on high metal frames suggest internal spaces, and occasionally listening devices by aerials poked out of the cast forms like spies. Her screen paintings portray pitted moonscape surfaces, fractured with rift lines like the sculptures. She enjoys mixed materials and successfully develops warm translucent pieces with resin on wire frame, such as the ceremonial 'Small Window' 1992. The assemblages grow to three metre tall totems, high narrow structures with inset mirror plates that catch the visitor.
In the upper gallery Genzken finds a different voice; more assertive and free in its associations. Orange sun blinds overhang a platform of roughly handled collages, like a row of crazy beach huts, some inset with frank erotic images. The wall pieces 'Social Facades' enjoy the play of gleaming surfaces of bronzed and gilded tile sections, masking a biting social commentary.
An upturned wheelchair is comically collapsed, clipped with a gold foil sheet; the carnival atmosphere intensifies with Strassenfest 2009, a wild installation of trash fashion mannequins that lurch idiotically in a surrealist boutique. Doll dummies drooping in geriatric zimmer frames betray a sense of burning frustration and anger of the artist, and an energy unleashed in her art to work upon an imperfect world.
77-82 Whitechapel High Street,
London E1 7QX Tuesday to Sunday 11am-6pm
Tel: +44(0)20 7522 7888