“A kind of artistic bag lady.” That’s how one French critic described sculptor Isa Genzken. Her “bricollage of materials and manners, idioms and styles creates a willful and bewildering confusion.”
An English critic went further. He saw the artist’s work in the context of what he calls “the one insurmountable fact” about her, “that Genzken suffers from prolonged periods of mental ill-health.”
What? An artist making work whose meaning you can’t “always grasp”? She must be nuts! Whatever Genzken’s difficulties, the “ungraspable” quality of an artwork hardly qualifies as a reason to get out the butterfly nets.
Take Picasso. When he first showed Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907, everybody thought he was “crazy”–or “fou,” since it was Paris. The shocked ones included even his painter friends in the avant-garde! Without Genzken’s bio, that English critic might have to consider her a genius.
Or how about poet Wallace Stevens back in 1949 describing the aim of poetry: “The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully.” Some critics have argued that often Stevens was a little too successful on that score. Still, he’s one of a handful of essential modern American poets. Plus, he was an insurance company executive!
Luckily, others have. Like, for example, curators at MOMA, who put together a Genzken retrospective that opens this November. They call her “arguably one of the most important and influential female artists of the past 30 years.” (That “female” part might be relevant, but I’m not going there.)
In addition to assemblage sculptures, Genzken has worked in collage, painting, films and other media. “Over the last decade,” says the intro to the MOMA exhibition, ” a new generation has been inspired by her radical inventiveness” which created “a new language of found objects and collage.”
Paul Wackers, as far as I know, has never been called crazy. (The name is just a coincidence.) He is a painter living in Brooklyn. His recent work tends to feature landscapes with structures. But I was struck by some earlier work that falls in the category of painting mimicking collage.
This work is from a 2013 show “Early Romantics” at New Image Art Gallery. Although these works are inspired by 17th century Dutch still life paintings, a lot of collage has happened since then. Compare Wackers’s art with Margareta Haverman’s 1716 “A Vase of Flowers.”
Things have gotten a lot crazier since the 18th century. Some of Wackers’ details look like paintings of assemblages that are not without”bewildering confusion.”
The 21st is just that kind of a century.