You can’t cut off an ear every day
Take an art student capable of impressing his professor and fellow students by making clever references to Marcel Duchamp. An adventurer prepared to go to any lengths, who is not averse to sleeping off his hangovers on sofas discarded on the street – just so long as he is where he wants to be in the center of the art world: New York. A megalomaniac who believes he can set up his own Museum of Modern Art (the MoMAS) on the Greek island of Syros. A failure who in Cologne’s Chelsea Hotel indulges wantonly in an orgy of alcohol, sex and creative fervor. A narcissistic individual who tries to limit the books sold by the bookshop Walther König to his own publications. A genius who in leaving artworks as payment earns himself the right to eat and drink for free in Berlin’s Paris Bar for a lifetime. A marketing expert who makes sure everybody is aware of his presence at the Venice art biennale, even though none of his works are on display there.
Relying on the more or less credibly described phases in the life of Martin Kippenberger, Christian Jankowski proceeds with scientific precision to extract the ingredients of the artist myth. Using a History Channel format he relates, with the help of a professional crew, the Passion story and apotheosis of the much-admired enfant terrible. And Jankowski is not about to miss the opportunity to himself take the role of Franz Erhard Walther, who was his teacher and also the teacher of Kippenberger. In the role of serious presenter, actor Wilson Ng from Singapore expertly provides introductions to the eight episodes shot at original locations, filters out the generally valid recipe for the success of great artists and feeds it to the audience in concise, memorable sentences. Alongside extraordinary talent and highly influential patrons you must withstand the occasional setback, need heroic powers of endurance, the gift of being in the right place at the right time, and the mercy of an early death. Finally, the professional adviser recommends “Go and build your legend.” So that’s how it goes. The easy way to become an artist. Is that ridiculous? Or just sad?
Christian Jankowski has always been interested in how you become an artist and secure your fame. And he has repeatedly succeeded in exposing in a parody the institutional mechanisms of power and simultaneously in fulfilling the expectations made of him as a globally operating artist. Whether he hunts for food with a bow and arrow in a supermarket, has fortune-tellers on Italian TV predict the continuation of his artistic career, engages actress Nina Hoss as curator, or himself slips into the role of curator in order to find out on the occasion of the 11th Manifesta in Zurich what people are prepared to do for money, it is always the widely ramified media network of curators, gallery owners, collectors, and prominent figures from film, television and the Web that he caters to and exposes at once. It is not that easy to discover where the affirmation ends and critical reflection begins – in this respect Jankowski’s artistic strategy is not unlike that of Andy Warhol.
At Haus am Lützowplatz in Berlin, Christian Jankowski is currently staging “The Legend of the Artist and Other Sites of Construction.” In the midst of eight large set walls measuring 4 x 7 meters, which Jankowski designed several years ago as the stage set for the play “Kippenberger! – A Excess of the Moment,” there is a seating area. Sitting on the hard bench you have an unimpeded view of the previously mentioned Kippenberg parody in biopic TV format. Curators Alexandra von Stosch and Marc Wellmann have added a group of works to it, which Jankowski devoted to a similarly legendary artist, namely Vincent van Gogh.
“Chinese Whispers” (2015) is based on tableau vivant-selfies, which Jankowski found on the Web. Fans of the famous artist mimicked the poses of his self-portraits and posted themselves on the Net as van Gogh imitators. Jankowski had these photographic re-enactments transferred to “real” paintings by copyists at the Dafen image reproduction site in China – and had each one correctly transferred to the formats of the van Gogh originals. Not surprisingly, the question of why so many people around the world dream of being a “false” van Gogh remains unanswered. Equally, it remains unclear just what in this complicated media appropriation and transformation process is to be described as an original and what as a reproduction.
A loop, which mimics Chris Burden’s promotion clip “Chris Burden Promo” from 1976, pays homage to this confusing principle of repetition and feeding back into the art operating system. Burden’s typographic and sound arrangement of names of great masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and – this was the irony in the 1970s – Chris Burden himself, is complemented by Jankowski adding “And later another poor devil.” That is unquestionably stupid. But perhaps motivated by the desire for artists to continue in the digital age to embody the egoistic outsider, the incorruptible social critic and the martyr confident of success. Martin Kippenberger is known to have said “I can’t cut off an ear every day.” But you can, as Christian Jankowski convincingly proved at Haus am Lützowplatz, deconstruct the legend of the artist and simultaneously be a famous artist.