Sunday, January 10, 2010

Isa Genzken
Grunge is one of the most salient features of art at the turn of the millennium and Genzken’s arrival on the grunge scene is a little tardy. One can point to many younger artists who embraced this particular aesthetic vocabulary earlier: Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Jason Rhoades, Mike Kelley, Rivane Neuenschwander, Malachi Farrell, Mike Nelson, Thomas Hirschhorn, Rachel Harrison, John Bock, and the list goes on.
The contemporary grunge aesthetic has long roots stretching back to Cubist collage including Picasso’s junk sculptures, the Duchampian Readymade, Schwitters’ Merz, Assemblage, and the radical interplay of sculpture and painting that Robert Rauschenberg pioneered from the mid 1950s onwards. In the 1960s two movements are outstanding with regard to their use of junk-like materials: Nouvelle Réalisme (Cesar, Arman, Spoerri) and Arte Povera (”poor art”). Of the two movements Arte Povera is especially pertinent due to the fact that its very name points to a desire to distance art from preciousness, embracing instead the nitty-gritty of everyday life.
Isa Genzken, Gay Baby, 1997-98
This has led to the rather naive notion that grunge is innately “transgressive”. On can see this in the image above of a work from 1997-98 that Genzken entitled Gay Baby. Her title has a shock value that is typically “transgressive” but the question that has to be asked is whether this transgression embraces an ethical frame of reference or is simply, punk chic: which is to say stylistic in a manner that reflects Genzken’s rather monotonous obsession with minimal-modernist columns.

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