While Isa Genzken’s ‘Issie Energie’ at König Galerie purports a connection between the artist and El Lissitzky for their elusive use of form and process, her latest show feels more reminiscent of Piero Manzoni: the exhibition is full of the artist’s shit. While Manzoni sensationalized authorship in relation to the art market through tins of his own excrement sold by their weight in gold, Genzken (and König) capitalizes on her celebrity status through the desultory detritus of selfies, signatures, and studio shots of the artist, denying any kind of autonomy for the works beyond a relation to their maker. The key image disseminated in press releases and advertisements is not of an artwork, but an informal, iPhone-quality image of the artist bequeathed with a commodified Mondrian mug. ‘Issie Energie’ seeks its authority not from the work itself, but rather relies on Genzken’s flailing celebrity status; whereas in the past Genzken has been a trailblazer for deconstructing the image, in ‘Issie Energie’ she slumps into her own construction as icon.
König Galerie crams 22 of Genzken’s collaged assemblages, with wrinkling duct tape and curling paper, in a horizontal line along one wall; however, despite the film-strip orientation, the only narrative that unfolds is that of the gallery trying to sell them. The works do not posit a fragility because it doesn’t appear as if they were ever precious. In true Genzken fashion, she creates visual barriers to entry through thick duct tape on sleek metallic surfaces, and the most minimal works are successful in their aesthetic investigation of material tactility, unadorned with messy computer printouts or trite philosophical associations. Many works flaunt a conservator’s nightmare: in one work, a used sheet of heart stickers hangs so loosely off a printed evite to the end of the Berlin Biennale that it is unclear if it will still be attached by the end of the show. The horrid craft seems more of a shortcoming than a technique, and warping paper and fingerprint smudges do not leave an adequate montage of the artist’s studio process, but rather suggest a cockiness of incessant success.
Genzken directs a potent theatricality in her work, though despite the many mannequins acting, she focuses on herself as the protagonist. A common rule of theater is that no prop on stage should go unused, but Genzken dresses her stage with superfluity. The overwhelming frivolity of the exhibition denies the singularity of certain works and conflates unrelated series in the artist’s oeuvre. Genzken’s feeble concrete works, physically and conceptually weak in the company of the wall pieces, feel neither architectural nor performative in her theater. In the high note of the show, Genzken performs her own acts of iconoclasm with the busts of Nefertiti—in the spirit of Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Coca Cola Vase’—in a gesture that contemporizes and commodifies the Egyptian queen. The eccentricity of her mannequins recalls the performativity of Rachel Harrison but lacks the cultural insight of Hanne Darboven; decorated with Chanel bags and spray paint, her mannequins seem to be more playing dress up than carrying out the world of their everyday. The show’s crowded curation creates a tension between the static iconicity of the busts and the plastic everyday quality of the mannequins, amidst the surrounding rubble.
The same year that Manzoni completed ‘La Merda della Artista’, he also created ‘Living Sculptures’ in which he would sign nude models or visitors as works of art. In this vein, Genzken puts her name on everything she can get her hands on, though the vivacity of the gesture is only economic. Nothing in the show has a title, but almost everything has a signature, boiling down its content to obsessed identifiers of the artist’s iconicity. In addition to the plethora of her own image in collaged printouts, Genzken signs the derrière of mannequins, stamps her name onto couch pillows, and autographs aluminium panels but, in doing so, she only asserts the mortality of the artworks without her.