Basic Research
signed and dated 'Isa Genzken 1990' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
82 x 79cm.
Painted in 1990
Achenbach Art Consulting, Munich.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's Amsterdam, 26 May 2005, lot 429.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

Rendered in acrylic on canvas, Isa Genzken’s Basic Research (1990) unfurls in an abstract topography of rugged monochrome. Like a moonscape, or a close-up shot of volcanic ground, the work recalls Jean Dubuffet’s earth-obsessed Texturologies of the 1950s, yet remains mysteriously flat, devoid of the texture it promises. Largely working in sculpture and possessing a wicked sense of humour, Genzken, in a widely varied practice that spans the past four decades, has often engaged with the formal qualities of surface and artifice. This work is born of a close dialogue with her sculpture of the time – the late 1980s saw the artist working in concrete to create near-architectural structures that referenced destruction and damage, their roughness denying the slick perfection of Minimalism. ‘I’d already made works in concrete that look like churches, ruins and bombed-out buildings… If you walk around them, you can discern different stories, find hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, areas that feel more secure. I was also quite explicitly playing with the idea of ruins and a Caspar David Friedrich kind of mood’ (I. Genzken, quoted in D. Diederichsen, ‘Diedrich Diederichsen in conversation with Isa Genzken,’ Isa Genzken, London 2006, p. 29). Towards the end of this series she created a number of complementary paintings titled Basic Research (1988-1992), to which the present work belongs. Genzken painted directly onto her Cologne studio floor, before laying unprimed canvas over the paint and running a squeegee over the surface. After this process of frottage was complete, the canvas was peeled away from the floor and hung up to dry, before being stretched. Genzken was married to the painter Gerhard Richter from 1982 to 1993, and we can see his influence in the use of the squeegee – indeed, both artists probe the interface between image and reality, and many of Richter’s abstract works share the enigmatic richness of Basic research. However, in engaging so directly with the material world, Genzken creates a vision entirely her own: anticipating the contemporary trompe-l’oeil practice of Tauba Auerbach, the result has an astonishing, almost photographic dimensionality, transforming the canvas into a sublime object of dark and compelling presence.

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