New York

Christian Jankowski, The Eye of Dubai (detail), 2012, video, black-and-white, sound, 47 minutes 20 seconds; ink-jet print, 48 1/2 x 48 1/2"

Christian Jankowski, The Eye of Dubai (detail), 2012, video, black-and-white, sound, 47 minutes 20 seconds; ink-jet print, 48 1/2 x 48 1/2"

Christian Jankowski

Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

Christian Jankowski, The Eye of Dubai (detail), 2012, video, black-and-white, sound, 47 minutes 20 seconds; ink-jet print, 48 1/2 x 48 1/2"

As a metaphor for art criticism, “message in a bottle” is, at best, rather anomic. Is that what we as writers do: just chuck it out there and pray some random reader halfway around the world stumbles on the entreaty of our otherwise lonely prose? Review, 2012, part of Christian Jankowski’s exhibition “Discourse News,” consists of approximately one hundred bottles sealed with red wax, which contain handwritten art reviews the artist solicited from critics and were here organized in clusters throughout the gallery space. Not only are the enclosed texts proleptic—Jankowski asked the writers to appraise a work that hadn’t been made yet—and therefore not reviews, but the fraught image of the many mute messages in their bottles imparts an unmistakable whiff of futility to the notion that critics’ discursive efforts have any audience at all.

Jankowski often initiates collaborations that ultimately spiral back, perhaps narcissistically, to himself. But can artists ever really “collaborate” with others without subsuming joint efforts into their own production? Everyone involved seems to toil in Jankowski’s works, from the Italian psychics he called to poll for their prophecies about the success of his 1999 Venice Biennale outing, to his former gallerist Michele Maccarone, who, for Point of Sale, 2002, he had switch roles with her downstairs neighbor George Kunstlinger, an electronics dealer, so that each pitched the other’s wares. Ultimately, however, Maccarone was hawking for Jankowski, and Kunstlinger (reading Maccarone’s script) was as well.

Jankowski can be tough on himself, too. In the forty-seven-minute video The Eye of Dubai, 2012, also on view, the artist and his crew spend nearly the entire time blindfolded (in the piece, Jankowski mentions, without naming the artist or work explicitly, Joseph Beuys’s similar I Like America and America Likes Me performance of 1974). As Jankowski stumbles around Dubai on his first trip to the UAE, his guide, local gallerist Rami Farook, narrates the attractions as Jankowski’s sightless team struggles to keep the artist in focus and the sound boom somewhere—anywhere—near the action. Jankowski’s rich German-accented English baritone offers a convincing facsimile of Werner Herzog at his most ponderous, particularly when Jankowski muses on the experience of standing on the viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, while not seeing a damn thing, or when he’s in the Ski Dubai shopping mall groping a resigned-looking king penguin (shades of Herzog’s suicidal penguin in Encounters at the End of the World). Jankowski’s motley troupe is accompanied by a second film crew, from the BBC World News, shooting a documentary in a series named, almost farcically, Collaboration Culture. The allegory of a blind visual artist is, of course, poignant to the point of bathos, but as played throughout The Eye of Dubai, Jankowski’s “artist as center of attention” is a significantly more caustic performance. As Farook herds this art-media circus around Dubai’s “sights,” the blindfolded artist tries repeatedly to engage bewildered residents. In the souk, Jankowski bellows questions into the ether (in English, recall), hoping to parley with the largely non-Anglophone locals. The Eye of Dubai hilariously sends up the unspoken demand that artists demonstrate effortless social fluency in whatever cross-cultural situations they parachute into, and then—no pressure!—make art while they’re there.

While The Eye of Dubai is funny and shrewd, the video Discourse News, 2012, despite being only less than six minutes long, felt fulsome. In it a NY1 news announcer, seated in a studio environment, drily reads quotes taken from Jankowski’s critics embedded in a convoluted argument about the need for artists to intercede in the mass media on their own terms. Had this been an actual televised intervention, such an argument would seem more pointed, as in The Eye of Dubai’s literal refusal to visually consume the spectacles of the UAE’s absurd self-promotion (skiing in the desert?) while still incorporating an entire BBC TV crew. It’s unclear whether Discourse News, or even the mass of unread text of Review, should be interpreted under the aegis of the fourth work in the gallery, a neon sign near the video in the gallery entryway that reads, in a cursive scribble, PLEASE STOP YOU’RE BORING ME TO DEATH.

Eva Díaz