Molly Beauchemin

Isa Genzken’s Two Orchids Celebrate “The Garden” in Central Park

Isa Genzken’s Two Orchids— a new exhibit currently on display in Central Park until August 21st, 2016– is bringing monumental flowers to central park in honor of Armory Art Week and the NYBG Orchid Show. The installation’s two towering orchids are 32- and 28-feet tall and will be installed right outside Central Park near the Scholars Gate at E. 60th Street and Fifth Avenue. (The exhibition was originally on display in the 56th Venice Biennale in the spring of 2015, so this will be their second time on view, but the first in New York City.) The exhibit was revealed this past Tuesday, March 1st– just in time for The Armory Show– to represent a fusion of both art and environment– two things that come to life in New York City during the spring.

Genzken, a native of Germany, is considered one of the most influential contemporary artists of our time. In 2014, she had a retrospective at the MOMA that surrounded her works’ resistance to any attempt at categorization or direct interpretation. Reflecting on why her work may be less known than her contemporaries, she once told Randy Kennedy, art writer for the New York Times, “I think my work is very difficult to understand. Sometimes people do and sometimes they don’t. I can’t do much about that.”

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The artist was born in Bad Oldesloe, Germany in 1948. She studied art and art history in Hamburg, Berlin, and Cologne, and over the course of her career, which now spans over four decades, she’s worked with several different materials and mediums– most recently, the stainless steel from which she constructed Two Orchids. Genzken is known for assemblage pieces– particularly sculpture– though she has created works in various mediums including painting, drawing, photography, film, and sculpture. Her sculptural pieces use various untraditional material from suitcases and mannequins, as well as more abstract finds like airplane windows, which her mother helped her acquire.

Although she lives and works in Berlin, her connection with New York City runs deep, as it began with her student years. When she was 16, Genzken visited her aunt in Midtown Manhattan, and since then she’d visit New York City every year, sometimes staying for several months. Many of her artworks are centered around New York City, such as “I Love New York, Crazy City” (1995-1996), a book of collages that document her experiences in the city.

Her sculpture Rose II, a single rose standing 28-feet tall, was on display on the facade of the New Museum from 2010-2013. Rose II was Genzken’s first public installation in the United States. Like many of Genzken’s works, its meaning is and continues to be ambiguous. On the one hand, Rose II (like Two Orchids) deals with the integration of architecture and nature– the concept of blending the natural and the artificial. It also experiments with the manner in by which scale can effect and change a subject’s meaning, which is  a longstanding theme of Genzken’s work. On the other hand, however, Rose II also had a humorous element to it; for simply no reason other than the spontaneity of it all, the huge rose stood on its own on the facade of one of NYC’s quintessential contemporary art museums.

Isa Gengken Orchids


Two Orchids, like Rose II before it, is also a public installation of large scale flowers, but the piece has a different feel. Two Orchards is lighter, more delicate, with softer edges. Whereas the rose is a timeless symbol of love, the orchid has a more diverse array of potential meaning. Nicolas Baume, director of the Public Art Fund who curated the installation, said: “For Genzken, the decorative neutrality of the orchid makes it the quintessential flower of our period-– global and porous to meaning.”
Festooned in the park in their new home of New York City, the orchids look like graceful clouds in contrast to Rose II, whose sharp edges gave the rose a mechanical look. The thin stems of Two Orchids are tied to metal shafts that support them. Of course, the context also changes the meaning, and an installation in Central Park will inspire a different artwork than one designed for the New Museum’s facade– though both installations, like the flowers they are meant to emulate, continue to inspire joy.

Two Orchards is curated by the Public Art Fund, an organization dedicated to making contemporary art accessible in New York City while providing the public with meaningful experiences with art in an urban environment. The installation will be on view until August 21, 2016 in the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Central Park. For more information on goings-on in the world of orchids and art in NYC, see our previous coverage of the New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid Show, which is on display until April 17.

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