Reality Show

The unpredictable happens when an artist blurs the distinction between the staged and the truth

German-born artist Christian Jankowski, who now divides his time between Berlin and New York, is among the best of the new species of cine-conceptualists. His film and video projects are hard to explain but easy to watch. They're convoluted, self-referential, touching, awkward, and sometimes hilarious. You could say he creates a behavioral art of social interaction and cinematic process, or that he stages collisions of incompatible media systems and belief systems. You could claim his work has a kind of site-specificity that is more about situation, context, and conventions than place. You could even call it a symbiotic head trip involving mutual exploitation. To put it really simply, Jankowski manipulates reality.

See it and you catch on instantly. Telemistica in 1999, which had subtitles, recorded his on-air telephone session with a fortune teller on a call-in TV show in Italy. For Singing Customs Officers the same year, he convinced border guards from Austria, France, Italy, and Germany, all at Swiss borders, to sing their national anthems. The Matrix Effect, which he did for the Wadsworth Atheneum in 2000, involved that museum's Matrix program of exhibitions: He interviewed artists who had participated, then filmed children speaking their answers. In The Holy Artwork, which Jankowski describes as having "a parallel life in the art context and the context of religion," he collaborated with a television minister (he's "a total fan of it") and his congregation in San Antonio, Texas. Switching between his own shaky subjective camera and the church's smooth camerawork, it's sublimely funny and comically spiritual, especially when the artist falls to the floor at the altar. "Personally, I'm a great fan of imperfection," he has said.

When I speak with Jankowski by phone (while he watches over potatoes cooking on his stove), he tells me that Rosa, which was made for the 2001 Berlin Biennale and will be shown in his upcoming exhibition (opening at Maccarone on March 7) was "somehow a bridge for me into the film work. Before, I was a cineaste standing outside the cinema." The project came about when a German film director, making a feature film about a hipster kid who steals his girlfriend's far-out art projects and turns them into advertising campaigns, used a couple of Jankowski's early pieces in the film as stand-ins for the fictional Rosa's art: The Hunt (1992), in which the artist hunts for his food with a bow and arrow in a supermarket, and My Life as a Dove (1996), in which he hired a magician to turn him into a dove (the bird lived in the gallery for the duration of that show, while the artist kept out of sight). Instead of payment, he asked to make a film within the film. Each time his own work appeared, he stopped the action and made the actors confront the camera to answer banal questions about art and media. He then transferred these 35mm film outtakes, shot by the professional film crew, to video, and as one critic remarked, swapped two old artworks for a new one.

Christian Jankowski in action
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Christian Jankowski in action

This I Play Tomorrow, which he made at the famous Cinecittà film studio in Rome a year ago, is also in his next show. The work has two parts; the first is documentary video: He interviews (with a camcorder) people who happen to be standing in front of Cinecittà, asking each of them what their ideal role and costume would be. In the second—using Cinecittà's equipment, sets, and costumes—he films them (in 35mm, which he has transferred to video) interacting in the roles of their dreams. As we go to press, he is probably in the midst of shooting the third work he'll show here, titled What Remains. A 16mm film remake, in English, of a video he did in Germany, it will star people exiting five different multiplexes. He'll ask them to give their impressions of whatever film they just saw, requesting that they speak in the present tense. We won't know what movie they're talking about. And he hopes to transfer their 16mm soundbite replies into 35mm in order to put these spectator-participants onto the big screen. Coming soon, if the artist can convince the multiplex manager: Someone he has interviewed will have his or her 15 seconds of glory—between the commercials and the movie—on each multiplex screen.

March 7-May 2, Maccarone, 45 Canal Street, 212.431.4977

March 11-May 30
Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, 800.WHITNEY

Promising to be intergenerational and reinvigorated, the latest incarnation of the show we love to hate offers works that range from ethereal to apocalyptic, by 108 artists and groups. Marina Abramovic, Maurizio Cattelan, Spencer Finch, Julie Mehretu, Christian Holstad, Virgil Marti, Emily Jacir, and Assume Vivid Astro Focus are among them. Yayoi Kusama, Paul McCarthy, David Altmejd, Liz Craft, and others are in Central Park.

March 12-June 7

MOMA QNS and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, 33rd Street and Queens Boulevard, Long Island City, Queens, 212.708.9400, and 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens, 718.784.2084

Among this European innovator's art materials were chocolate and cheese, and he's been cited as a liberating influence on Paul McCarthy. But except for an occasional decaying bittersweet rabbit, his art has been all but invisible here. Spanning five decades and 375 works, the first U.S. survey since 1984 of his influential oeuvre makes up for lost time with a chronological array at MOMA and installations at P.S.1.

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