Isa Genzken: Botanical Garden

19 July – 28 September 2014. Tues - Sun, 10am - 5.30pm

Installation views, Isa Gensken: Botanical Garden, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2014. Images courtesy of the artist and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.


Press Release

Isa Genzken (b. 1948, Bad Oldesloe, Germany. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany) is one of the most important and influential artists of the last forty years. A tireless innovator throughout her long career, Genzken's practice has evolved from beginnings in Minimalist sculpture to a frenetic, aesthetic of superabundance that resists both comparison and definition.

A contemporary of Joseph Beuys, Carl Andre and Gerhard Richter, Genzken first came to prominence in 1970s post-war Dusseldorf with distinctive conceptual sculptures she named Hyperbolos and Ellipsoids, lacquered wood forms made possible with nascent computer technologies. As a constant polymath, Genzken’s work has advanced through a range of media and material including concrete sculpture, photography, the photographic readymade, painting, experimental film and, since the mid-1990s, large-scale sculptural assemblages and complex collage.

Although seemingly defined only by difference, Genzken’s work consistently returns to a number of foundational concerns apparent in most of her works. These include urban landscapes and metropolitan architectural forms, the sculptural potential of photography, and identity, the human form and an interest in natural beauty.  

Botanical Garden focuses on later work made by Genzken within the last ten years including found-object sculptural assemblages and wall and floor-based photographic collage. These multi-layered, deliberately overloaded works frequently incorporate cheap, mass produced and universally recognisable items from toys to garments, shop mannequins, cartoon characters or photographs of landmark monuments, celebrities, disembodied limbs, and portraits of the artist herself, all graffitied with spray-paint or else embellished with tape.

Sculptures like Halleluja (Werkstatt) / Halleluja (New Museum), 2012 (room 2), replicate the towering structural mass of a New York skyscraper whilst the upright, translucent Perspex boxes of Untitled, 2012 (room 3) echo glass high-rises. The reflective aluminium surfaces of Soziale Fassade, 2003 and Flag, 2004 (room 1) also imitate the cladding and grid-like windows of modern corporate buildings in the city that reflect their immediate environment but do not reveal what is beneath the surface. 

This mini metropolis is populated by Genzken’s ‘schauspieler’ or actors; life-size mannequins who are uncanny and sometimes absurd representations of familiar cultural types - savvy child consumers, urban hipsters and psychedelic fashionistas lifted out of an urban commercial world. Congregating in room one, these schauspielers reframe the gallery as a busy high street or even a dancefloor or, a place for social encounters and interaction, and posturing identities.

Each work in Botanical Garden is a narrative microcosm, chattering of contemporary culture, global issues, conflict and irreverence in a manner that both critiques and celebrates the carnivalesque, contradictory nature of the Western world. Works such as the billboard-sized wall piece Untitled, 2012 (room three), and the floor piece occupying most of room 4 could resemble a in its expanse bright demanding shape. Here the artist confronts the viewer directly in the first of many photographic self-portraits contained within her work.

Through a multitude of mirrors and different reflective surfaces, the space and those in it are drawn into the work. Hung low, mirrors avoid displaying a conventional view of the self instead reflecting abstracted hips, limbs and feet. 

The unique context of the Royal Botanic Garden lends itself to new readings and juxtapositions of Genzken’s recent work, who through her own processes, brings together materials and objects from diverse sources in the same way the Garden’s Botanists gather together species of plants from all over the world; both artist and botanist enable a rich reflection on the extraordinary nature of the everyday.

Genzken’s recent absurdist documentary-pastiche Die Kleine Bushaltstelle (Gerustbau), a collaboration with artist Kai Althoff, is shown in the lower ground floor screening room.


Talk: David Bussel on Isa Genzken

Satuday 19 July, 3 - 4pm - Event Free

Curator and co-author of Isa Genzken: Ground Zero presents an in-depth discussion of the artist's work in relation to the new exhibition at Inverleith House. Part of 2014 the Edinburgh Art Festival.


David Bussel : Isa Genzken from arts-news on Vimeo.

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The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)