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"Cool Hardcore Glamour"
Press reactions to Isa Genzken at the German Pavilion


The Venice Biennale is considered one of the most important international forums for contemporary art. For the German Pavilion, which this year has as its main sponsor Deutsche Bank, Isa Genzken has created a project called Oil. The artist has covered up the historic building and in the interior, she has installed assemblages of colorful wheeled suitcases, transparent plastic furniture, calendar pictures, floating astronauts, rogues and plastic toys. International critics had varying reactions to the work, which is full of allusions. For some, the German Pavilion is a highlight of the event, while others find it awful.




Isa Genzken, "OIL" (detail),
German Pavillon, Venedig Biennale, 2007
mixed media,
courtesy German Pavillon 2007,
Photo: Jan Bitter


Benno Schirrmeister has written a veritable hymn to Isa Genzken’s work in the taz. For him, Oil is simply "breathtaking", and following his visit to the German Pavilion, he wondered why he should go look at anything else, when he felt he’d already seen the best work there. He says the orange plastic construction site netting with which the artist has covered the building signalizes that "here something is being built and remodeled on a massive scale. It’s a promise that Oil fulfils in every aspect. Genzken (...) has interpreted the pavilion (...) as a colossally sized sculpture. She just maintains a sense of the interior walls and rooms as a framework: these become an expanse for free flight of the eye and thoughts – it’s movingly beautiful. Whoever enters this artwork and surrenders to its associations and the play of color and explores its details will certainly find himself changed by it."



Isa Genzken, "OIL" (detail),
German Pavillon, Venedig Biennale, 2007
mixed media,
courtesy German Pavillon 2007,
Photo: Jan Bitter


Elke Buhr from the Frankfurter Rundschau sees the covering of the building as a "clever move to repudiate the stony imposition of the neoclassical structure." In the interior as well, "Genzken, with her sensibility for materials and forms, easily gets the not uncomplicated pavilion space under control." "She has called the whole things Oil, the name of the substance that holds the globalized world together and simultaneously threatens to blow it apart. But anyone looking for a clear thesis on this will be disappointed – that is not how Isa Genzken’s aesthetic world functions. This is no bombshell, but a headstrong production, coherent in its mysteriousness." Ute Baier of Die Welt says Genzken has created an "enchanted world of mirrors." But adds, "the installations do not allow for much more than descriptions and associations. Behind the colorful or silver-painted surface of the art lurks – according to each viewer’s personality and imagination – amusing irrelevance or profound emotion. That is more than most artworks can promise and fulfill."



Isa Genzken, "OIL" (detail),
German Pavillon, Venedig Biennale, 2007
mixed media,
courtesy German Pavillon 2007,
Photo: Jens Ziehe


Genzken’s assemblages have been especially controversial. To Geert van der Speeten of Brussels' Standaard, they appeared like "Star Wars in plastic, in which carnival-like toy figures play the main roles". Laura Cumming, in Britain’s Observer, writes of the "bathos of a sort of disco apocalypse (...) except that it felt more like a theme-park for rubbish." Writing for Freitag, Ingo Arend praises the work’s "cool hardcore glamour". For him, Genzken’s arrangements condense into "an image of a doomsday vision that leaves behind a feeling of icy anxiety." And Ulf Poschardt from the German edition of Vanity Fair is also impressed by the installation’s "oppressive effect." But the lifestyle specialist also has an eye on the hipness factor: "The best bag is the one from the German Pavilion. The noose for the hanged man on a white background with a plastic animal is the accessory in Venice."



Isa Genzken, "OIL" (detail),
German Pavillon, Venedig Biennale, 2007
mixed media,
courtesy German Pavillon 2007,
Photo: Jan Bitter


Stephen Maine takes a more art history-influenced view in his article for Art in America: "The specter of German Dada hung in the air. (…) With this haunting, ferocious body of work, Genzken can assume a prominent place in the lineage of zeitgeist-tapping assemblage artists." But Walter Robinson from artnet seems a bit baffled in the face of the skulls, carnival masks and mannequins in spacesuits: "All these mannequins are trying to tell us something... maybe that Surrealism is back?" He describes both the work and the artist as "unhinged". Genzken’s "nightmares of macabre beauty" (Linde Rohr-Bongard in Capital) are simply "appalling" to Michael Kimmelmann of the New York Times.



Isa Genzken, "OIL" (detail),
German Pavillon, Venedig Biennale, 2007
mixed media,
courtesy German Pavillon 2007,
Photo: Jan Bitter


But Andreas Schlaegel of Flash Art says of Genzken’s pavilion: "The world she shows is falling apart, it can’t contain the things in it anymore, because implicit notions of structure and order have become obsolete." Holger Liebs writes in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of a "shiny metallic trip to a cold death, shimmering between discount-store flair, science fiction and military severity." His final assessment is thus: "This vision of a gaudily colored, reflected coldness, a rending of the sculptural concept into its smallest pieces, is a daring, perhaps too daring, undertaking, and too caught up in detail."



Isa Genzken, "OIL" (detail),
German Pavillon, Venedig Biennale, 2007
mixed media,
courtesy German Pavillon 2007,
Photo: Jens Ziehe


Tim Ackermann, who reviewed the Biennale for the Welt am Sonntag, encountered in the German pavilion "astonishingly mysterious works" whose "openness to interpretation" he found especially fascinating. But that was precisely what bothered Tobias Timm from Die Zeit: "With Oil, Genzken simultaneously opens so many areas of association (...) that one wonders if someone was afraid; afraid of insignificance and a lack of persuasiveness of the art itself." Peter Richter, writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, complains that it is precisely the ambiguity of the work that is criticized: "Anyone who finds this all too inaccessible and demands a central theme as if it were a pull tab must first explain why he or she does perfectly well without it when it comes to Schlingensief, Meese or John Bock." Isa Genzken herself says in an interview with Spiegel online: "I present the viewer with art, not with a cake and the recipe for it."



Isa Genzken, "OIL" (detail),
German Pavillon, Venedig Biennale, 2007
mixed media,
courtesy German Pavillon 2007,
Photo: Jan Bitter