Ground Plan

London
04.06.08

Left: Artists Isa Genzken and Wolfgang Tillmans. Right: Artist Cerith Wyn Evans. (Photos: Gareth Harris)


A swarm of Hedi Slimane look-alikes pressed shoulder to shoulder with a clutch of curators (what is the collective noun?) at the Wednesday-evening preview of Isa Genzken’s new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth. The place was jammed with baseball-capped boys sporting oversize glasses and freaky fringes. The fashionistas were obviously keen to see what they had missed out on last summer when hordes of Genzken groupies failed to get into the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Genzken’s Oil installation at the Italian event left me cold, but the most popular conversational opening salvo at the Hauser & Wirth bash was “Did you get in at Venice?” The response was a resounding “No” from most parties, which may explain the glut of curators milling around the German artist’s outlandish new sculptures. Mark Sladen, director of exhibitions at the ICA, was spotted darting through the throng, along with Donna De Salvo of the Whitney and Hans-Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine. Tate luminaries were especially out in force: I counted at least four exhibition organizers among the crowd, including Achim Borchardt-Hume, Tate Modern’s curator for modern and contemporary art, and Frances Morris, the permanent-collections curator who organized the gallery’s recent Louise Bourgeois survey. A smiling Borchardt-Hume was decidedly coy when quizzed about the Tate’s strong showing: “Why could that possibly be?” he asked. Perhaps we can expect to see a new Genzken piece gracing the Tate’s walls sometime soon.

An impressive crop of artists and dealers had also popped along to the Piccadilly gallery to check out the artist’s architectural proposals for Ground Zero. Stuart Shave, Darren Flook, and Maureen Paley flew the flag for the gallerists, while Cerith Wyn Evans, David Batchelor, and Michael Raedecker were caught in the crush leading down to the basement bar. Wolfgang Tillmans had the good sense to clarify for the throng that “there’s only drink down there, art is upstairs,” later joining Genzken in the rarely opened top-floor American room, away from the crush. Interrupting their intense conversation in German, I asked why she’d dared to tackle the taboo of 9/11. “The US is afraid to talk about Ground Zero, it’s a very delicate thing,” she said. “But this is a positive show.”

Left: Hauser & Wirth's Roger Tatley with Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo. Right: Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones. (Photos: Gareth Harris)


Opinion on the floor was wildly divided over her sculptures, produced in consultation with a team of engineers to ensure that each model could withstand scaling up to the size of the original World Trade towers. “Mike Kelley meets Wal-Mart” was one less forgiving evaluation, but Henry Moore’s grandson, Gus Danowski, gushed that Genzken “is fully committed to her concept.” It’s worth popping across the road to the gallery’s Swallow Street space to view a series of photomontages that superimpose Genzken’s monuments on the Ground Zero site. Placed in the context of the desolate Manhattan location, her bold, bright vision makes intuitive aesthetic sense. The head of culture at the UK German embassy, Anne-Marie Schleich, is apparently set to e-mail architect Daniel Libeskind, imploring him to come and see the designs.

A word of caution, though, to anyone visiting the show: beware of objects protruding from the Genzken pieces. Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones almost took a dive when she stumbled over a leather cushion placed near one sculpture. A pregnant party guest had to maneuver herself gently around the Goofy assemblage, while a pair of gallery-hired “invigilators” held hands to form a protective barrier around the mammoth Italian Lamp. A gallery technician pointed out that a pink scarf had fallen from the mezzanine onto a branchlike sculpture hanging below; most partygoers presumably assumed the chiffon accessory was just part of the piece.

The highlight of the post-private-view dinner at the Le Meridien hotel was Hauser & Wirth director Gregor Muir’s (short and sweet) speech, during which he paid homage to Genzken’s unique approach. But the real high jinks came at the postdinner party, held in a nearby swanky basement club. Genzken, known for her love of clubbing, hit the floor first with her excitable German dealer, Daniel Buchholz. They were swiftly joined by Wyn Evans, who rapidly morphed into a one-man movement to revive voguing. As I left, Wyn Evans was pirouetting on a pair of crutches, and Genzken, resplendent in a silver baseball cap and gray tweed, was still smiling and dancing with Tillmans; that woman knows how to have fun.

Left: Hotel Gallery director Darren Flook. Right: Isa Genzken's installation at Between Bridges. (Photos: Saskia Draxler)