Isa Genzken (born 1948, Bad Oldesloe, Schleswig-Holstein) is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Berlin. Her primary media are sculpture and installation, using a wide variety of materials, including concrete, plaster, wood and textile. She also works with photography, video, film and collage.
Upon graduating in 1977, Genzken taught sculpture at the academy. She married German visual artist Gerhard Richter in 1982 and moved to Cologne in 1983. The couple separated in 1993.
Genzken has worked in studios in Düsseldorf, Cologne (designed in 1993 by architect Frank Tebroke), for short stretches in the United States, in Lower Manhattan and Hoboken, New Jersey, and currently in Berlin.  after her divorce from Richter, she moved from the Rhineland region back to Berlin. Genzken has bipolar disorder and goes through manic and depressive phases. She has frequently undergone treatment for substance abuse.
Rose (1993), in front of Leipziger Messe, Leipzig, Germany. Foto: Christoph Müller
Although Isa Genzken's primary focus is sculpture, she uses various media including photography, film, video, works on paper and canvas, collages, and books. Her diverse practice draws on the legacies of Constructivism and Minimalism and often involves a critical, open dialogue with Modernist architecture and contemporary visual and material culture. Using plaster, cement, building samples, photographs, and bric-a-brac, Genzken creates architectonic structures that have been described as contemporary ruins. She further incorporates mirrors and other reflective surfaces to literally draw the viewer into her work. The column is a recurring motif for Genzken, a “pure” architectural trope on which to explore relationships between “high art” and the mass-produced products of popular culture.
In the 1970s, Genzken began working with wood that she carved into unusual geometric shapes. In the photographs of her Hi-Fi-Serie (1979), she reproduced advertisements for stereo phonographs.
In 1980, Genzken and Gerhard Richter were commissioned to design the König-Heinrich-Platz underground station in Duisburg; it was completed in 1992. Between 1986 and 1992, Genzken conceived her series of plaster and concrete sculptures to investigate architecture. These sculptures consist of sequentially poured and stacked slabs of concrete featuring rough openings, windows and interiors. A later series consists of other architectural or interior design quotations made from epoxy resin casts, such as column or lamp sculptures. In 1986, Genzken's architectural references switched from the 1910s, 20s and 30s to the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In 1990 she installed a steel frame, Camera (1990) on a Brussels gallery’s rooftop, offering a view of the city below. In 2000, a series of architectural models roughly patched together, was inscribed with Fuck the Bauhaus. Later, in the series New Buildings for Berlin, which was shown at Documenta 11, Genzken designed architectural visions of glass high-rises.
The project entitled Der Spiegel 1989-1991 is a series of images comprising 121 reproductions of black and white photographs selected and cut from German newsweekly Der Spiegel. Presented in a non-sequential but methodical manner, each image is glued against a piece of white card and individually mounted in a simple frame. Whilst the images themselves remain caption-less, the dates in the series' titles offer clues about the artist's intentions.
Her paintings of suspended hoops, collectively entitled MLR (More Light Research) (1992), recall gymnastics apparatus caught mid-swing and frozen in time.
Starting in 1995, while in New York for several months, Genzken created a three-volume collage book entitled I Love New York, Crazy City (1995–1996), a compendium of souvenirs from her various stays in the city, including photographs of Midtown's architecture, snapshots, maps, hotel bills, nightclub flyers, concert tickets, among others.
One of Genzken's best known works, Rose (1993/7), is a public sculpture of a single long-stemmed rose made from enamelled stainless steel that towers eight metres above Leipzig’s museum district. The artist's first public artwork in the United States, her replica Rose II (2007) was installed outside the New Museum as part of a year-long rotating installation in November 2010.
Genzken has also produced numerous films, including Zwei Frauen im Gefecht, 1974, Chicago Drive, 1992,Meine Großeltern im Bayerischen Wald, 1992, and the video Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death, 2003.
Since the end of the second half of the 1990s, Genzken has been conceptualizing sculptures and panel paintings in the shape of a bricolage of materials taken from DIY stores and from photographs and newspaper clippings. She often uses materials that underline the temporary character of her works. As part of her deep-set interest in urban space, she also arranges complex, and often disquieting, installations with mannequins, dolls, photographs, and an array of found objects. New Buildings for New York are assembled from found scraps of plastic, metal and pizza-box cardboard. The assemblages from the Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death series, originally comprising more than twenty sculptures that were created following the attacks of September 11, are combinations of found objects – action figures, plastic vessels, and various elements of consumer detritus – arranged on pedestals in architecturally inspired, post-destruction scenes.Elefant (2006) is a column of cascading vertical blinds festooned with plastic tubes, foil, artificial flowers, fabric and some tiny toy soldiers and Indians. For her installation Oil, the artist transformed the German Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale into a futuristic and morbid Gesamtkunstwerk.
Genzken’s first solo exhibition was held in 1976 at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Düsseldorf, and her first exhibition with Galerie Buchholz was in 1986 in Cologne. Her first solo show in the U.S. was mounted by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, in 1989. Genzken represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 2007. In 2003, she had already participated in the Venice Biennale and, in 2002, Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany. She was the subject of a major retrospective in 2009, jointly organized by the Museum Ludwig, Cologne and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. Other solo exhibitions in the past decade include Malmö Konsthall, Sweden (2008); the Camden Arts Centre, London (2006); the Photographers' Gallery, London (2005); the Kunsthalle Zürich (2003); and the Lenbachhaus, Munich (2003). Artist Dan Graham included Genzken's work in his "Deep Comedy" show at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, in 2008. Her recent shows included collaborative work with Kai Althoff and Wolfgang Tillmans, in whose exhibition space "Between Bridges" she exhibited in 2008. She is the subject of Elizabeth Peyton's painting Isa (Isa Genzken 1980) (2010).
„Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts. Es kommt noch besser“, Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin
“Ausweitung der Kampfzone“. Die Sammlung 1968 – 2000, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin
“Isa Genzken: Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, Fotografien“, Horst Schuler: Images, Text by Birgit Pelzer, Exhibition catalogue Haus Lange Krefeld, November 11 - December 30, 1979, Krefeld 1979
“Isa Genzken, Gerhard Richter“, Text by Rudi H. Fuchs, Exhibition catalogue Galleria Pieroni, Rome 1983
“Isa Genzken“, Texts by Klaus Honnef, Dieter Schwarz and Jan van Adrichem, Exhibition catalogue Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn, October 20 - November 27, 1988; Kunstmuseum Winterthur, January 22 - March 19, 1989; Museum Boymans – van Beuningen, Rotterdam, April 30 - June 18, 1989, Munich: Verlag Silke Schreiber, 1988
“Isa Genzken“, Texts by Gregorio Magnani and Peter Groot, Exhibition catalogue Museum Boymans – van Beuningen, Rotterdam, April 30 - June 18, 1989, Cologne, 1989
“Isa Genzken. Jeder braucht mindestens ein Fenster“, Texts by Paul Groot and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Exhibition catalogue The Renaissance Society Gallery at the University of Chicago, May / June 1992; Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, November / December 1992; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, February / April 1993; Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, May / June 1993, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König 1992
“Isa Genzken. Skizzen für einen Spielfilm“, Texts by Isa Genzken and Katerina Vatsella, Exhibition catalogue Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen 1993
“Isa Genzken“. Urlaub, Text by Vanessa Joan Müller, Exhibition catalogue Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main, May 27 - August 6, 2000, New York: Lukas & Sternberg 2000
“Isa Genzken. Sie sind mein Glück“, Texts by Karola Grässlin, Diedrich Diederichsen and Rita Kersting, Exhibition catalogue Kunstverein Braunschweig, June 11 - August 27, 2000, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag 2000
“AC: Isa Genzken / Wolfgang Tillmans“, Texts by Kasper König and Michael Krajewski, Exhibition catalogue Science Fiction / Hier and jetzt zufrieden sein, AC-Saal, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 1. November, 2001 – 17. Februar, 2002, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König 2001
“Isa Genzken. Wolfgang-Hahn-Preis 2002“, Texts by Paul Erik Tojner and Michael Krajewski, Exhibition catalogue Museum Ludwig, Cologne, October 31, 2002 - January 26, 2003, Ed.: Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst am Museum Ludwig e.V., Cologne 2002
Isa Genzken, Texts by Beatrix Ruf, Diedrich Diederichsen, Josef Strau, Veit Loers, Vanessa Joan Müller, conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans, Exhibition catalogue Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach 2002; Kunsthalle Zürich, Zürich 2003, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König 2003
Isa Genzken, Texts by Alex Farquharson, Sabine Breitwieser, Interview by Diedrich Diederichsen, publ. by Phaidon Press, London 2006
Isa Genzken, Exhibition catalogue Secession, Vienna; Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck, Texts by Benjamin Buchloh, Manfred Hermes, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König 2006
Isa Genzken - I Love New York, Crazy City, Artist Book, Facsimile, publ. by JRP Ringier, Zürich 2006
Isa Genzken – OIL, German Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2007, Conversation with Nicolaus Schafhausen and Texts by Liam Gillick, Juliane Rebentisch, Vanessa Joan Müller, Willem de Rooij, Cologne: DuMont 2007
Isa Genzken – Ground Zero, Text by David Bussel, Exhibition catalogue Hauser & Wirth, London 2008
Isa Genzken – Sesam öffne dich!, Exhibition catalogue Museum Ludwig, Cologne and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König 2009
Isa Genzken: Berlin, 1973, artist book, facsimile, publ. by Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin 2013
„Isa Genzken: Retrospective“, Exhibition catalogue The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013/2014), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2014), Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas (2014/2015), Texts by Sabine Breitwieser, Laura Hoptman, Lisa Lee, Michael Darling, Jeffrey Grove, publ. by The Museum of Modern Art, New York 2013