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  • Christian Hain

Christian Jankowski, the Man, the Ledge. A HaL of an Artist

(Berlin.) Haus am Lützowplatz ("House on Lützow Square") is an art centre situated on, yes: Lützow Square, that much you've probably guessed for yourself. It's not far from Potsdamer Straße actually, with all its galleries and other entertainments.

A regular reader, you might be aware of how much we're in love with acronyms, but here, for once, it’s official: Website and brand logo shorten Haus am Lützowplatz to HaL, and if we had only a little more trust in the pop cultural education and sense of humour of the Berlin art scene, we’d assume a deliberate reference to Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computers (but not Haliburton Corp.’s ticker symbol).

The Legend of the Artist and Other Construction Sites by Manifesta 11’s curator in chief Christian Jankowski is one of the ongoing exhibitions. Construction sites belong to Berlin as to any other metropolis, the steel stairs to the entrance though do seem more like an artwork than a makeshift solution (then again, is not all art provisional? - Ooh, that’s deep.). There's even more to the outside. Apparently, Christian Jankowski was asked to provide public art for "the future BER airport". If you are familiar with Berlin affairs, you will be ROFLing now, begging us to say no more; an artist you would have put down the phone immediately. For those who don’t know the story: BER is an airport that’s not built, a neverending story of scams and scandals, cock-ups and corruption. The manifested incompetence of BER is the one example to prove everybody wrong who still believes, “the Germans” do it all right, are well-organized and professional. Imagine somebody commission Lawrence Weiner and Tino Sehgal to build an airport; the results would be more this-worldly, more material than the reality of BER. But whoever it was calling - responsabilitites have shifted with the frequency of gallery shows - Jankowski listened him out. He even got a letter with detailed documentation on the work to create. Or maybe he got the letter (/email) in the first place because they wanted to spare themselves the humiliation of a personal talk. Jankowski, we say, opened that letter. He read the description and realized, the work was more finished - in one sense at least - than BER ever will. The demands were precise, he agreed to take their money and considered his work done with the acknowledgement. And now, he transferred words from the concept paper to HAL‘s facade.

Inside, there are paintings. Large ones, really large ones. They have been executed by set designers to represent places Martin Kippenberger visited in his lifetime; they were initially used in a theatre piece Christian Jankowski had staged three years ago. Martin Kippenberger, you might recall, was a German artist of the 1980s whom some consider to be very influential. If this were a Wikipedia entry, you'd now see one of those smug annotations: “(who? – citation needed)”. Well, some, you know. And Christian Jankowski! He’s obsessed with Kippenberger, word goes he asks his wife to dress as a Paris Bar waitress for some quality time (ok, we made that up). Jankowski shows a film biography of Kippenberger, ordered from a Singaporean production company. The presenter is an Asian midget, and actors (mostly bad) so much "diversified", in the scenes reenacting Kippenberger’s art studies you're almost disappointed by the absence of a burqa-ed Lesbian in a wheelchair. "Diversity" (or: "cultural mainstreaming") rules, but it does not seem exactly representative for mid 20th Century Germany. Note: You should not control (/alter) the past to control the future; never. Not being specialists in Kippenberger, not at all, we cannot tell if the biography is legit. Most of all, you sense Jankowski’s love for theatre, it’s all exaggerated, pose, theatrical, instead of trusting the genuine, realistic, powers of film.

Martin Kippenberger was a communication genius, in this very modern, and his “legend”, i.e. public persona, fascinates Jankowski. Some art historians praise Kippenberger for working with all kinds of different media. If you’re in for some Kippenberger bashing, you might say: This is exactly the problem, the man is known for the legend, not the art. Many struggle to name a famous work of Kippenberger beside that painting he exchanged for free board and lodging at Berlin’s Paris Bar; it has been auctioned off since and you don’t exactly remember how it looked like.

If you search for it, you find some smart stuff Kippenberger has done, but he is primarily remembered for knowing no limits beside what his liver could take, and at some point it could not take any more. This is different to other media players of art, Hirst, Koons &co at least are linked to identifiable works, adding "artistic" to "personality". And so is another favourite artist of Jankowski's: Vincent van Gogh. The Earless Dutchman is no less surrounded by myth (always a good read: Colin Wilson’s 1956 seminary study The Outsider with VvG for one example), but there’s more to him, a lot more.

It seems revealing: Where in Kippenberger’s case, Christian Jankowski documents the artist' life with a film and paintings of places he had been to (and done art, that much be granted), in Vincent’s case, he starts with art: Jankowski ordered paintings from Chinese sweat shops who copied web-sourced pics of people posing as van Gogh's self portraits. Those people surely know the legend, but they also identify artworks as “van Goghs”, they don't merely dress as psycho painter for Hallowen.

Next you find prints of the exhibition poster starring Christian Jankowski, on sale for a limited time only. And interviews transcribed on paper with Christian Jankowski answering questions from Kittelmann, König, Ruscha, Saltz, Picasso, ea. Not really, just questions the stars have once posed to somebody else. Some of them might have heard his name. Below the photos, a plastic box and a cardboard asking for change, that's what public relations comes down too, always. Then TV commercials for the artist; like Chris Burden did in the 1970s, as Christian Jankowski included in Manifesta. The film text reads: “Leonardo Da VinciMichelangeloRembrandtvan GoghPablo Picasso Chris BurdenChristian Jankowski – Some other bum”. The Kippenberger related painting dominating this room has books in bookshelves.

The big question: Is all this ironic, or is Jankowski honestly celebrating himself? Is he critical of self promotion and marketing making an artist, or not? Himself, he's probably got the ego, but not the legend. The show invites to discussions on an artist's legendary status that might accompany his work, or even replace/overshadow it. What tactics are fine, and what are not? What about Tanya Playner (you got Twitter, you know her, and her “art”)? Or that a#*&hole who set up countless facebook accounts in the names of art world personalities, tricking you and me into believeing we were actually friends with Koons and HUO?

It being a Sunday, we needed the help of an intern (assistant?) with the keys to enter the second show in a garden shed. It’s called Habseligkeiten, and we need to talk about the word. Some years ago, Habseligkeiten was elected the most beautiful word of the German language; elected by German native speakers, obviously. It literally means "have-blessed-doms", it refers to something you hold very dear. “Hab” is from “haben” = “to have”, “selig” means “blessed” from “Seele” – “soul”, and “-keiten”, well that's just another suffix. Scarceness plays a role in the connotations, the word is (or was; not much today) used in the context of a very poor person, an artist, critic or some other scum, who “scratches together his Habseligkeiten”, his last and only belongings. “Selig” most of the time refers to somebody who has passed away, in phrases like “grandpa, God bless him (“God keep him selig”), ...”.

The exhibition shows photos. And it’s a group show, surprisingly. The style looks much the same, it could all be one artist only. Trivialities, and roadkill, a gored fox, a mangled racoon, computerized plants and (fake?) food, a shroud and a dead dove. Also a crumpled Ferrari, or a Ferrari on crumpled photo paper; the dead are blessed, but all habseligkeiten – belongings – irrelevant. Still, life. In some way or other, all these objects may be of importance to the photographer, or a role the photographer assumed when taking the image. None of them has a legend connected to his name, not that we’d knew, but maybe they need one to make it big.

The show, opened on 8 October, is part of EmoP Berlin's seismic waves.

Christian Jankowski, The Legend of the Artist, 15 September-20 November 2016,

Habseligkeiten, 8 October 2016-29 January 2017,

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism



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