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“Permission To Laugh: Isa Genzken’s Exceedingly Unsmiling Art”

 

So I was at MoMA, having just seen Magritte and, at the Morgan, Poe, when I stumbled on the Isa Genzken retrospective, a reeking midden of craptastic art-school self-indulgence. My thoughts turned to that quote from Poe’s contemporary, the critic James Russell Lowell, who called EAP “the most discriminating, philosophical, and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America,” though he did allow that Poe’s pen was so corrosive it might as well have been dipped prussic acid. And I thought, “Right, then; fish, barrel, smoking gun.”

Isa-Genzken-Mein-Gehern

Isa Genzken, Mein Gehirn (My Brain), 1984, synthetic polymer paint on plaster, metal.

TEASER:

Oddly, the New York Times critic Roberta Smith sees “raw, unapologetic beauty” in Genzken’s Weltempfänger [World Receiver] (1987–89), concrete blocks fitted with radio antennas. Why cinderblock accessorized with antennas? None but the brick-thick dare ask. If you must, the press kit is here to help: they “imbue forms with narrative content through a minimum of means.” Over there, those blown-up ads for high-end stereo systems? They’re appropriations, of course — 65 years after Duchamp called a bottle rack art, but who’s counting? — at once “a celebration of the increasing perfection of commodity objects and a comment on their fetishization by the popular media” because why take a stand when you can split the difference between celebration and critique, revelry and irony, leaving no flank exposed? This is Adorno for undergrads; Frankfurt Marxism Lite.

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Permission To Laugh: Isa Genzken’s Exceedingly Unsmiling Art.”