Now in its tenth year, Thomas Blackman’s Art Chicago, one of the world’s largest international art fairs, is presenting the work of over 3,000 artists this weekend. In addition to modernist masters like Picasso and famous contemporaries like Gerhard Richter, the expo includes lesser-knowns with growing reputations whose work is rarely seen in Chicago.
Among them is Berliner Christian Jankowski, whose often humorous pieces straddle the line between fiction and documentary. After he was rejected by Hamburg’s Academy of Fine Art on the basis of his paintings, he had a friend videotape him in supermarkets with a bow and arrow, “playing the heroic male hunter, shooting the products I needed to eat.” When he laid them before the cashier with arrows in them, “she immediately became a part of my work.” This video, The Hunt, got him into the academy the following year.
Until then Jankowski had also been a musician, but, bored by scored music, he preferred improvisation–“open dialogue between the musicians. I like dealing with people.” This attitude carried over into his videos. For example, for his Shame Window, people on the street were invited to sit in the window of his storefront studio displaying signs naming things they felt ashamed of.
For Point of Sale, a three-screen video installation at Maccarone (booth AB240), he engaged a management consultant to question his New York dealer, Michele Maccarone, and the owner of an electronics store in her building. Jankowski switched the scripts he wrote based on their answers, so that the store owner speaks as the gallery owner and vice versa. The management consultant, who speaks on business success in the center screen, advised Maccarone to broaden her business, which Jankowski notes with a chuckle could be taken as a suggestion that she rely less on his work.
New Yorker Spencer Finch works in a variety of media, and Artforum recently called one of his pieces “conceptually elegant.” The same can be said of Blue (Sky Over Los Alamos 5/5/00), installed in the entranceway of the Ultimo boutique at 114 E. Oak, in which lightbulbs are arranged to mirror the molecular structure of the pigment he matched to the sky over the city where the atom bomb was created.
Finch’s Art Chicago piece, One Donut Twelve Times, Twelve Donuts One Time, at Rhona Hoffman Gallery (booth B200), consists of a grid of 24 photos arranged as a diptych pairing 12 different views of a single doughnut with 12 of different doughnuts. “This piece is about questioning whether when you look at something from a different angle it’s a different object,” he says. “I want to make viewers wonder. All my work is about looking at something and trying to understand it.” The diptych format was partly inspired by a Malevich pencil drawing of two squares that Finch calls “the most beautiful drawing in the world”–but his doughnuts are grungy and his piece has a gentle humor.
Squeak Carnwath, whose name derives from her childhood nickname “Pipsqueak,” combines high art and pop-culture references in sensitively made paintings. Though she teaches art at the University of California at Berkeley, her approach is intuitive, and though she has an MFA, “I don’t have a BA because I failed to complete art history. It was memorization, and discussion wasn’t encouraged. I learned more by going to museums.
“Painting is a philosophical enterprise in which in a kind of alchemy inert material becomes something else–a document of being, a repository of the human spirit,” she says. Carnwath’s spiritual view of painting has roots in her childhood: “My mother was a Catholic who didn’t practice, and we didn’t know we were being raised Catholic, but got all the guilt.”
One of her works at Art Chicago, Home, at James Harris Gallery (booth AB244), has a circle in the center labeled “Guilt Free Zone,” a motif she’s used more than once. It was inspired by a friend who, dying of melanoma, hadn’t gone to a doctor immediately (though doing so probably wouldn’t have saved her). “I thought, she really needs a guilt-free zone.” It was for herself too, “and people who saw those works would tell me that they were thinking of marking ‘guilt-free zone’ on their own floors.” Also included–outside the zone–are outlines of rabbits, because “we were called dumb bunnies by our parents when we were kids.”
But Carnwath says viewers needn’t be aware of any of this. “If you know the whole formation of an artist’s mind, it limits how much you bring. Television has made people expect to be told what’s happening in front of them, and now museums are like that with acoustiguides. If people need to have things explained, their knees are not going to grow weak with an epiphany-type experience.” (Other Carnwath works can be found at booths B136 and D129.)
Art Chicago 2002 runs May 10 through 13 in Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand. Hours are Friday and Saturday from noon to 8 and Sunday and Monday from noon to 6. Admission is $12, free for children under 12; for more information call 312-587-3300 or visit www.artchicago.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Hugo Tillman, New York, courtesy Maccarone Inc., NY.