Isa Genzken's sculpture is concerned with what surrounds us and shapes our everyday existence, from design, advertising, and the media to her most enduring subject, architecture and the urban environment. The artist is interested in the ways in which aesthetic styles – the unadorned angularity of modernist architecture for example – embody and enforce political and social ideologies.
Urlaub constitutes Genzken's multilayered inquiry into the meaning of work and leisure. “Artists never take vacations,” Genzken says, “but the entire art system urgently needs a vacation.”
Vanessa Joan Müller examines how Genzken's recent work establishes a critical discourse about architecture and design as exposed sites of aesthetic and cultural formation. Discussing the artist's “beach house” series, small architectural models with playfully defined interiors/exteriors, the author writes that one can read them “as a pointed commentary on postmodern architecture, as a subtle attack on the predominant taste of the times. When Genzken gets involved with the miniaturization of this kind of architecture – which could be realized in principle – turning it into small-format sculpture, the procedure emphasizes the ambiguity of the subject toward a particular ‘resort-style beach life'. The aspect of playing with form and material should therefore not deceive: the beach house is a status symbol that can only be found on the exclusive beaches of this world, and hence it is simultaneously the object of envy and a hallmark of distinction.”
A student at the dynamic Düsseldorf Academy during the 1960s, Genzken has since consistently challenged Modernist imperatives in her explorations of the relationships between public and private space, artistic autonomy and collective experience. The artist's oeuvre, which can be subsumed under the term “sculptural,” is characterized by extreme contrasts between the individual stages of development. However, the characterization of Isa Genzken as a traditional sculptor, along with the usual remarks concerning the heterogeneity of her methods (photography, video, film, collages, and collage books), veils a stronger internal logic. While the work demonstrates a continuous examination of the classic themes of sculpture (the ordering of mass and volume; the relation between construction, surface design, and materials; the conception of and relation between objects, space, and the viewer), what the “traditional sculptor” label cannot quite capture is Genzken's remarkable ruthlessness: the manner in which her work underlines the rejection of traditional understandings of sculpture and space while reflecting on and disclosing the specific circumstances of their production and reception.