‘Joan Jonas: Study of the Artist With Dog’


How to begin?” Joan Jonas mutters, a few minutes into Brigitte Cornand’s off-the-cuff character sketch, Joan Jonas: Study of the Artist With Dog, and it’s the central if substantially-less- than-million-dollar question for artists of all stripes, even those who have been at it for over 40 years, as Jonas has. Interspersing footage of the slim, bobbed 70-year-old artist at work in New York and at her home in Cape Breton with footage of the multimedia art installations that brought her to the forefront of the performance art movement in the 1960s, Cornand attempts to coax out the mysteries of inspiration with varying levels of success. Jonas is a game hostess, if slightly wary of showcasing the slippery, deceptively kooky nature of her muse: the work of art historian Aby Warburg. Jonas acolytes may be riveted by their idol’s interpretations of Warburg’s work—goofy hats and a round of existential hopscotch included—but Cornand doesn’t offer much for the less-than-devoted. Talking about performance art, to paraphrase, may indeed be like dancing about architecture, and while in some ways Jonas has made a career of proving that the latter is possible, the former, as this film makes clear, remains something of a quandary.