Isa Genzken shows us the money
Why has the German artist worked coins and notes into her latest series of paintings?
In the art world, as in life, money is hard to ignore. Yet Isa Genzken’s Geldbilder, or Money Pictures, which are due to go on show at Hauser & Wirth in London later this month, don’t feature the kind of cash we commonly associate with contemporary art.
These aren't the serried columns of a healthy balance sheet, or the vertiginous numbers associated with big auction house sales. Instead, the money in this 66-year-old German artist’s new paintings, looks slapdash, badly kept, and slightly out of control.
In the pictures, acrylic paint has been applied unmixed, using a large brush or spray can, and is sometimes arranged to form a smiley face or a tag-like signature. Yet the paint mainly serves as a backdrop for the money. The works are a bit like Robert Rauschenberg’s collage/sculpture/painting hybrid ‘combines’, in the way the canvas holds Euro coins and notes and British pounds, as well as other pieces of everyday ephemera, such as personal photos, a cheap tourist menu, the cover from a gay German lifestyle magazine, and a wooden ruler in the shape of a gun.
Genzken is a keen follower of European politics, and, living in Germany, she will be aware of the European Central Banks travails with the Euro currency and the EU more generally. Yet, these pieces also bring to mind her scrapbooks I Love New York, Crazy City (1996), where she collaged together photographs, flyers and other found objects, into a kind of personal, impressionistic guide to the city, as well as her Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death (2003-2004) sculptures, where simple, cheap objects were imperfectly bound together, in a kind of personal, political response to the war in Iraq.
The gallery suggests that the tall, thin shape of most of the pictures, along with the crowning bands of industrial tape in Geldbild I and II, might bring to mind the recurrent theme of tower blocks in Genzken’s work. Meanwhile, the application of a gold ring to the canvas of Geldbild II could prompt some gallery goers to recall that the artist was once married to and is now divorced from the fellow painter, Gerhard Richter.
More generally, the pictures seem to uncover the rash, vain, and ultimately human drives that support our currencies. The exhibition, which runs at Hauser & Wirth’s Savile Row gallery from 26 March until 16 May, certainly looks like a show investing time in.
Meanwhile, if you don’t feel as if you’ve got your money's worth from this London exhibition, you could try to take in the larger display of Genzken’s new work at MMK Museum fur Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, which opens March 14, or wait until June, when the ICA in London hosts a retrospective of the artist’s simple, scrappy Basic Research paintings (1989-1991). Meanwhile, for a richer understanding of this important contemporary artist, buy a copy of our monograph here.