Saturday, 7 January 2012

137. URLAUB (Holiday) 2004 by ISA GENZKEN

New Art From Germany
Saatchi Gallery 

While people queue up for tickets at Tate Modern to see the work of Gerhard Richter – variously described as the best living German artist, or the best living European artist or even the best living artist in the world – you can wind your way in calm and peace through the current Saatchi Gallery show to get a rich slice of action  among younger German artists. And it’s free.  It’s an eclectic collection and there is, as they say, bound to be something for everyone.
One room is devoted to Isa Genzken’s work. She uses eye-catching columns as plinths and pedestals on which to explore how ‘high art’ and mass-produced products talk to each other. So these are junk towers, swathed with plastic garlands, silver foil, photographs, spray paint and pictures cut from magazines and newspapers. And on top, instead of a nice quiet glass vitrine containing and confining a precious art object, we have  explosions of fake flowers and leaves, miniature toys, plastic cowboys and Indians astride horses splattered with black paint, a giant wineglass topped by a battered straw hat...and much more. They are both comical and mysterious.  And 'unstable' in the sense that each time she assembles her work it is different. She also uses mirrors and other reflective surfaces to draw the viewer into becoming part of an artwork.

Urlaub breathes out a melancholy air. How often do holidays – which offer so much to so many - live up to their promise? We look at the debris and our hopes stare back at us like contemporary ruins. 

Worse than that, have we turned holidays into products rather than experiences?  We need to have a smart answer to the question 'Where are you going/have been on holiday?' What was once exotic - Bali, Iceland, China - is now within reach. When we name our holiday destination it's like displaying our car on the forecourt. Sleek limosine or rusty old banger?

Urlaub was created at the time when Richter and she were getting divorced.  I thought of Arman’s  Condition of Woman 1960 – he’d displayed the contents of his first wife’s bathroom waste bin in a glass vitrine on top of an ornate antique cabinet.But that seems to be relatively straightforward message compared with Genzken’s work. She wants to take us by surprise with multiple meanings. As she says, ‘There is nothing worse in art than  ‘you see it and you know it...that’s a certainty I don’t like..'

There is a beautiful piece about her by Colm Toibin in

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