RIVER NORTH — The newest exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art aims to introduce American audiences to Isa Genzken, one of the most influential sculptors in the last 40 years.
"Isa Genzken: Retrospective," which opens Saturday, was compiled jointly by MCA Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Dallas Museum of Art. The exhibit is a tour of the German artist's 40-year career, beginning in the late 1970s and featuring art through the present.
"It's really timely to put something like this together. It really gives people the most comprehensive look at [Genzken's] work," said MCA Chicago Chief Curator Michael Darling, adding that Genzken's only other exhibit in the U.S. was displayed in Chicago in 1992. "This is a show I've wanted to do for a long time even predating my time here at MCA."
The entrance to the exhibit is bookended by recent work: two sets of queerly dressed mannequins straddle the entrance to the exhibit on the fourth floor of the MCA, 220 E. Chicago Ave. Two of the expressionless models stand side-by-side with their flannel shirts open exposing sleek chests with chiseled abs.
The elaborate assemblage is called "Actors," a multi-part environment created by Genzken, that includes a figure donning a red cowboy hat in contrast to a toned metallic body. Another wears a red beanie. Beside them, a young boy stands holding a magnifying glass; against a blue backdrop, a nude woman leans against the wall sporting only a blonde wig.
"[Genzken] is wildly exuberant in how she dressed and I think you can see that in the sculptures," Darling explained during a preview of the exhibit Friday afternoon.
The exhibit is divided chronologically into sections and arranged thematically within those sections beginning with Gezken's work in the late 1970s, when she first began regularly appearing in major galleries and museums. Her early work was inspired by minimalism but quickly began to blend her other artistic passions: painting, sculpture and photography.
On a far wall of the first section, sits a stereo given to Genzken by her mother in the early 1980s. On the other side of the room a black and white TV displays a movie of a tall woman and a much shorter woman exchanging clothes.
The exhibit flows seemlessly into her '80s work with plaster, concrete and epoxy sculptures. Genzken's interest in audio is illustrated in this section in a collection of concrete blocks with antennae attached, Darling points out.
The exhibit wraps up with Genzken's work in the last decade, where she was most productive and created several bodies of work that have redefined assemblage.
"These works range from smaller, diorama-like works to room-filling installations, incorporate photographs, kitschy souvenirs, pop culture cast-offs, cheap household products and high-end design objects," according to a statement by the MCA.
The exhibit will be open at the Museum of Contemporary Arts Chicago until August 3.