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 Officersthe 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



'2004 BIENNIAL EXHIBITION'
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.


'ROTH TIME: A DIETER ROTH RETROSPECTIVE'
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.


JIM LAMBIE
April 1-May 1
Anton Kern, 532 West 20th Street, 212.367.9663

This artist from Glasgow will be taping the gallery's floor with wall-to-wall strips of tape. If it's anything like his first taped floor installation a while ago in Soho, it will look fabulous, as bands of color wriggle around every corner and obstacle. If we're lucky, he'll also show a couple of bent door sculptures or taped record cover pieces, and a large construction of sewage pipes that meanders through the space.


JON ROUTSON
April 3-May 1
Team, 527 West 26th Street, 212.279.9219

He goes to the movies, holds a video camera in his lap, and shoots from the hip. In other words, Routson bootlegs movies, transforming big-budget productions into casual video verité. It's questionable and peculiar work that pushes buttons, raises questions, and sometimes gets everything right. If there's no hint about which film (or films) he'll make use of in "Recordings II," that's because it probably isn't playing yet.


'TERRORVISION'
April 3-June 27
Exit Art, 475 Tenth Avenue, 212.966.7745

The artists haven't yet been selected from the 600 submissions that arrived in answer to an open call, so things are still a bit vague. But we can count on Exit Art's usual panache to pull off a timely show of brand-new installation work informed by terror, personal or political. Besides the projects by about 25 new names, there will be an extensive video program and performances.


'WORLDSCAPES: THE ART OF ERRO'
April 13-July 17
Grey Art Gallery, NYU, 100 Washington Square East, 212.998.6780

Who? This Icelandic Pop painter—long famous in Europe, nearly unknown here—decided early in the game that more, not less, was better. So he crammed his canvases with cartoon characters, political figures, mass-produced images, and consumer-culture icons—getting a jump on his American counterparts to comment on pressing political issues. Did he move Pop art into a Baroque phase, as Arthur Danto has noted? Or is it proto-postmodern pastiche? We're about to finally find out.


ELIZABETH PEYTON
Dates TBA
GBE (Modern), 620 Greenwich Street, 212.627.5258

Our own 21st-century Boldini, who has an amazing knack for capturing pop-idol images of exhaustion and celebrity with the perfect virtuosic ennui for our time, is back with new work. Fans will find her latest paintings and drawings in the Whitney Biennial as well as in this solo show.


RODNEY GRAHAM
April 24-June 19
303 Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street, 212.255.1121

This Canadian-born cine-conceptualist's work is always cyclical and loaded with theory. So even if his new film, involving an old typewriter and a blizzard of white power, isn't as riveting as Vexation Island—and it would be hard to top his tropical island projection in which a coconut eternally conks a shipwrecked pirate on the head—it's sure to be intriguing.


'MAJORITY WHIP'
April 27-May 29
White Box, 525 West 26th Street, 212.714.2347

Over 30 young American artists, from a generation better known for teenage bedroom antics and trendiness than political commitment, take up the cause of participatory democracy and election issues for this benefit show, which will help a voter registration campaign in Florida this summer. Chris Johansen and Scott Hug, who has a special issue of K48 planned to coincide with the opening, are among them.


DO-HO SUH
April 30-June 5
Lehmann Maupin, 540 West 26th Street, 212.255.2923

Last time, this Korean-born artist—in whose work the individual tends to be inseparable from the group—stitched a wonderful gauzy re-creation of his whole New York apartment, complete with hallway and stairs to the floor above. It had a feeling of being uprooted, flimsy, and halfway around the world from home. In his current installation, a vast parachute carries the names of 3,000 individuals (family, friends, and people who signed the gallery book when they came to his previous shows), whose signatures have been stitched with pink thread. It's tethered to one tiny paratrooper.


TONY FEHER
May 8-June 12
D'Amelio Terras, 525 West 22nd Street, 212.352.9460

Doing nearly nothing to throwaway stuff like bottle caps or packaging, or simply filling a few plastic bottles with colored water, Feher has built a major reputation for work that balances between utter banality, impeccably casual form, and pure transcendence. But that's exactly its magic: Precarious, vicarious, and improvised, his arrangements of humble consumer containers never fall flat.


CARSTEN HÖLLER
May
14-June 19
Casey Kaplan, 416 West 14th Street, 212.645.7335

Hovering between physical disorientation and mind-altering reorientation, this Austrian-born maverick, living in Sweden, switches easily from magic mushroom photos to flashing, light-bedecked structures. At London's Tate Modern he recently showed a series of sliding mirrored doors that opened and closed randomly. He plans an installation of revolving ones here.


'MODIGLIANI: BEYOND THE MYTH'
May 21-September 19
The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, 212.423.3200

The quintessential bohemian artist, who died young and faded into the dim mists of the early Parisian avant-garde, is resuscitated in an exhibition of 80 paintings, sculptures, and drawings that explores not only his elongated nudes but his heritage as an Italian Sephardic Jew, and his style, which looked to the art of Egypt, Africa, and archaic Greece.

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