Isa <3’s Leo

In today’s media landscape, a book review is often a slap on the back. A handshake among colleagues that says, “well done.” But we have never been afraid to offer critique when critique is due. In our print section Berlin Reviews, we’ve always tried to take the propositions of a book seriously and push them to their extremes.

Archive Berlin Review from our issue #30.

Sporting a bright orange costume and several rows of pearls, a young man on the cover of Mach Dich Hübsch! fixes his lipstick in the side mirror of a non-descript car. Taken from an ad for the online dating portal—that promises “50,000 boys awaiting you”—the scrap-turned-artist-book’s title can be translated to “make yourself pretty.” Isa Genzken collaged its 72 pages about 15 years ago, and it has been published on the occasion of her largest-to-date retrospective at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. Mach Dich Hübsch! is a kind of Berlin counterpart to 2006’s I Love New York, Crazy City.


The book reflects Genzken’s ongoing interest in the relationship between public and private spaces. It offers fuzzy insight into her working process through plentiful photographs of herself, her friends, her studio, her work, parks in full Berlin autumn, as well as newspaper clippings, letters, and notes of both professional and private nature. Over and over again, we see cameos from a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as pin-up boys showing off their toned bodies and hard dicks. The resulting collages appear terrifically manic, impenetrable, and inviting all at the same. While the same applies for I Love New York, Crazy City, the crucial difference between the two publications is made clear in their respective titles. Genzken is “crazy” about New York, and Berlin just happens to be her scruffy home. It is a loving portrait, but less of a romantic than a sisterly one.

Depending on the reader’s inclination, one can look at Mach Dich Hübsch! as a window into Genzken’s exceptional mind, or as a view out onto the cities and cultural spheres through which she moves. Either way, you will find booze, architecture, comics, and artifacts such as a flyer promoting Gayhane, a legendary Turkish gay night hosted at Berlin’s SO36 club every last Saturday of the month for over 16 years. Imagining Isa Genzken there is easy, much easier than, say, Baby Leo. Her latent obsession with the teenage heartthrob may be rooted in his embodiment of youthful Hollywood glamor, or in an attempt to turn the male gaze on its head—or maybe she just thinks he’s cute. The DiCaprio memorabilia is somewhat mystifying, but also very good looking. In other words: A perfect match.


Mach Dich Hübsch! is published by Walther König (Cologne, 2016).