Although Isa Genzken's primary focus is sculpture, she uses various media including photography, film, video, works on paper and canvas, collages, and books. Her diverse practice draws on the legacies of Constructivism and Minimalism and often involves a critical, open dialogue with Modernist architecture and contemporary visual and material culture. Using plaster, cement, building samples, photographs, and bric-a-brac, Genzken creates architectonic structures that have been described as contemporary ruins. She further incorporates mirrors and other reflective surfaces to literally draw the viewer into her work. The column is a recurring motif for Genzken, a “pure” architectural trope on which to explore relationships between “high art” and the mass-produced products of popular culture.
In the 1970s, Genzken began working with wood that she carved into unusual geometric shapes. In the photographs of her Hi-Fi-Serie (1979), she reproduced advertisements for stereo phonographs.
In 1980, Genzken and Gerhard Richter were commissioned to design the König-Heinrich-Platz underground station in Duisburg; it was only completed in 1992. Between 1986 and 1992, Genzken conceived her series of plaster and concrete sculptures to investigate architecture. These sculptures consist of sequentially poured and stacked slabs of concrete featuring rough openings, windows and interiors. A later series consists of other architectural or interior design quotations made from epoxy resin casts, such as column or lamp sculptures. In 1986, Genzken's architectural references switched from the 1910s, 20s and 30rd to the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In 1990 she installed a steel frame, Camera (1990) on a Brussels gallery’s rooftop, offering a view of the city below. In 2000, a series of rather roughly patched together architectural models was inscribed with Fuck the Bauhaus. Later, in the series New Buildings for Berlin, which was shown at Documenta 11, Genzken designed architectural visions of glass high-rises.
The project entitled Der Spiegel 1989-1991 is a series of images comprising 121 reproductions of black and white photographs selected and cut from German newsweekly Der Spiegel. Presented in a non-sequential but methodical manner, each image is glued against a piece of white card and individually mounted in a simple frame. Whilst the images themselves remain caption-less, the dates in the series' titles offer clues about the artist's intentions.
Her paintings of suspended hoops, collectively entitled MLR (More Light Research) (1992), recall gymnastics apparatus caught mid-swing and frozen in time.
Starting in 1995, while in New York for several months, Genzken created a three-volume collage book entitled I Love New York, Crazy City (1995–1996), a compendium of souvenirs from her various stays in the city, including photographs of Midtown's architecture, snapshots, maps, hotel bills, nightclub flyers, concert tickets, among others.
One of Genzken's best known works, Rose (1993/7), is a public sculpture of a single long-stemmed rose made from enamelled stainless steel that towers eight metres above Leipzig’s museum district. The artist's first public artwork in the United States, her replica Rose II (2007) was installed outside the New Museum as part of a year-long rotating installation in November 2010.
Genzken has also produced numerous films, including Zwei Frauen im Gefecht, 1974, Chicago Drive, 1992, Meine Großeltern im Bayerischen Wald, 1992, and the video Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death, 2003.
Since the end of the second half of the 1990s, Genzken has been conceptualizing sculptures and panel paintings in the shape of a bricolage of materials taken from DIY stores and from photographs and newspaper clippings. She often uses materials that underline the temporary character of her works. As part of her deep-set interest in urban space, she also arranges complex, and often disquieting, installations with mannequins, dolls, photographs, and an array of found objects. New Buildings for New York are assembled from found scraps of plastic, metal and pizza-box cardboard. The assemblages from the Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death series, originally comprising more than twenty sculptures that were created following the attacks of September 11, are combinations of found objects – action figures, plastic vessels, and various elements of consumer detritus – arranged on pedestals in architecturally inspired, post-destruction scenes. Elefant (2006) is a column of cascading vertical blinds festooned with plastic tubes, foil, artificial flowers, fabric and some tiny toy soldiers and Indians. For her installation Oil, the artist transformed the German Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale into a futuristic and morbid Gesamtkunstwerk.
Isa Genzken's work is pure genius. She is at times both part of the Deconstructivist Derridian cum post-structuralist philisophical feminist mindset of Barbara Johnson and Judith Butler while encompassing a highly seductive graphic that out performs a hybrid Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen. Genzken somehow manages to make the Anti-Aesthetic very appealing and almost as beautiful a Jeff Koons Balloon Puppy.