The award—“established to honor a living artist who elevates the understanding of sculpture and its possibilities,” in the words of the Nasher—comes with a $100,000 purse. Now in its fourth year, its previous winners are Theaster Gates (for the 2018 iteration, awarded last year), Pierre Huyghe (2017), and Doris Salcedo (2016).
Genzken, who will turn 70 in November, has spent her career restlessly experimenting with materials in her field. Sleek minimal wooden sculptures in the 1970s gave way in the 1980s to now-iconic pedestal-perched concrete works, some of which sport antennae so that they resemble radios. Since then, she has also made sculptures that suggest maquettes or dioramas for architectural projects of varying degrees of practicality and, perhaps most notably, assemblages that involve mannequins adorned with fabrics and props.
“We’d be hard pressed to name an artist with a more textured and dynamic sculptural practice than Isa Gensken,” the Nasher’s director, Jeremy Strick, said in a statement to press. “Her work not only straddles an array of forms that complicate and enrich our understanding of sculpture, she also consistently challenges the way an artist’s career and oeuvre might look, breaking apart the notion of specialization within an individual studio practice.”
Genzken’s works are almost always multivalent and psychologically probing, mixing humor, irony, sincerity, and political bite. Her mannequin pieces can, for instance, resemble weary travelers, cult members, or blasé fashion obsessives, while her towering flower sculptures—which have been shown outdoors internationally, including at the 2015 Venice Biennale—seem to revel in the beauty of their subjects while giving off a knowing wink.
The quite-formidable jury for this year’s prize consisted of artists Phyllida Barlow and Huma Bhabha; Pablo León de la Barra, curator at large for Latin America at the Guggenheim Museum; Lynne Cooke, senior curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Okwui Enwezor, the former director of Haus der Kunst in Munich; Briony Fer, a professor of the history of art at the University College London; Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo; Hou Hanru, artistic director of MAXXI in Rome; and Sir Nicholas Serota, the former Tate head who now chairs the Arts Council England.