Annika Ström

Dear Annika,

I’m so glad you finally found the kindest artist in the world, the Finnish painter Jukka Korkeila. It was clever to describe the trials and tribulations of your long search in The letter to Anna (all works 2005), an enlarged missive, complete with huge coffee stains, which was strategically hung near a video portrait of Jukka standing in a snowy field in Belgrade, where you met him last winter.

I met Jukka years ago in Berlin, and I agree he is very kind (and paints the best melting ice cream cones). But the kindest artist in the world? True, he was kind enough to stand around in the freezing cold and pose for your video, but his strained smile suggests that he was uncomfortable with this attention (or thought you were nuts). Now, is that kind? However intense our desire to find the exemplary, one particular individual can’t bear the burden of embodying a global standard, be it kindness or evil. Jukka looked just as banal as Saddam getting his tonsils checked—the end of another long search. Superlatives can incite much love and war, and many casualties, before we finally figure out that someone even more superlative always comes along.

By pairing the superlative with the enlarged letter, you slyly underscored the difference between populism and Pop. Essentially rhetorical, populism aggrandizes words to exaggerate their referents, like Jukka being kind or Turkey taking over Europe, and thus divides the masses with love or fear. People start to measure themselves against each other, with an envious or wary eye. Pop, by contrast, is about increasing scale—sculptural or pictorial—so all things can be regarded equally, from the starlet to the soup can. However monumental-looking, Pop avoids the divisive value judgments of populism. Remember how Andy made portraits of both Marilyn and Mao?

Despite dipping into populism with Jukka, this show remains closer to Pop. You use pop music to magnify everything, especially the seemingly irrelevant moments of the day. Adding an aural side to Pop art’s sculptural-pictorial shifts suggests that Pop is not about monuments but about memory—in particular, the mnemonic technique of repetition. All those Brillo boxes are as catchy as one of your synthesizer tunes. Despite or perhaps because of its tinny, preprogrammed beats, your music seems to envelop everything around it like a movie sound track, giving everything an aura at once fleeting and unforgettable. Take the video projection, The missed concert. In this docudrama, six fans explain how they missed one of your fabled live concerts. Your sweet’n’low sound track made something unforgettable out of their otherwise banal excuses, from a babysitter’s desperate phone call to a bartender’s sluggish preparation of a Cuba Libre. Come to think of it, I missed one of your concerts too (another sluggish bartender, this one preparing a gin and tonic). Making your performances longer than ten minutes would likely solve this problem, but who cares about solutions? The missed performance ends up showcasing the narratives that would be silenced by it.

I loved the natural-Pop-cultural paintings—the raven with microphones and the elk with the pink bedspread—and the anonymous photograph, The bored audience, photographer unknown, Sweden, 2004 (clearly not your fans). Drawing the exhibition checklist on the gallery floor—with helpful arrows—was a bit too cute, with the checklist looking like a diagram of dance steps. But who knows? Maybe looking at art is like learning to dance. Take care.

Jennifer Allen