Christian Jankowski’s latest solo show at maccarone presents two discrete, yet obliquely related projects: Living Sculptures and The China Painters. “Super classical” describes this new body of work’s traditionally aesthetic mode, yet the ideas remain quintessentially Jankowski rigorous in conceptual language and never easily compartmentalized.
Discussions with professional buskers from Barcelona, particularly those who act as motionless historical or fantastical figures for spectators to photograph, inspired Living Sculptures, three life-size bronze models of these ubiquitous street performers dressed as Che Guevara, Salvador Dali’s “anthropomorphic cabinet” woman, and a Roman legionnaire who refers to himself as “Caesar”. Familiar to our cultural consciousness, they present intriguing questions about the transition from older production modes valorizing the artist to the current media-obsessed, audience-driven culture. Che’s elevation to bronze statuary comments on his image circulating as pop currency, available to radical politics and mass tourism alike. The legacy of Dali weighs heavily on Barcelona’s appeal to tourists, as well; the morphing of his surreal painting into street performance and then further into authentic bronze invites reflection on artistic authorship and appropriation. Bringing these ideas full circle, “Caesar’s” array of period accessories, sandals and a fantasy sword more reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings than ancient Rome, aspires to this “golden age” of bronze sculpture yet achieves a new classicism when united in metallic form. The sculptures will be installed this spring in La Rambla, Barcelona’s bustling urban promenade.
For The China Painters, Jankowski traveled to Dafen, a suburb of Shenzhen, China that operates like a paintings sweatshop. There, workshops have been for the last twenty years replicating western masterpieces, primarily for North American and European hotel lobby’s, producing an estimated 60 percent of the world’s cheap oil paintings. An artisan recently told Spiegel Online he “wants to get into the business of oil paintings the way McDonalds got into the business of fast food.” The Communist Party of China (CCP) has lauded the painters’ economic boom, erecting an art museum in the village center. This massive modernist building, which Jankowski visited and photographed, is currently without a director or a collection, despite its impending grand opening. Jankowski interviewed artisans, asking what they would choose for the institution to exhibit on the walls; none of the participants had been to a museum before. They remade his photographs of the raw museum interior, inserting their fantasy artworks. The resulting imagery varies from landscapes to family portraits, to traditional Chinese works and “sexy” paintings; some impart political criticism, such as Three Leaders, of former Communist leader Den Xiaoping in conversation with China’s current President and Vice President, or Liberty, a replica of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830). Via Jankowski’s invitation to participate in his own artistic practice, he gives the Dafen painters a voice, and moreover, a challenge to generate an original painting for the first time. The project confronts professional boundaries, and highlights the larger issue sur- rounding modalities of mass production in the twenty-first century global marketplace.