The Holy Artwork is a conceptual video work made in collaboration with Pastor Peter Spencer of the Texas-based Harvest Fellowship Church, which was filmed and broadcast as part of Spencer’s weekly televangelical show. It is characteristic of Christian Jankowski’s performative practice, where he works with people operating outside of the art world to question its value-systems and the problems associated with artistic production and authorship.
Jankowski divides his time between New York and Berlin. The Holy Artwork was commissioned as part of a two month residency at ArtPace, San Antonio and was shown as a projected video installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 Biennial Exhibition and again in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome, in 2003.
The piece opens with a video montage which establishes the world of Mid-Western evangelicalism. Pastor Spencer introduces the artist to the congregation as his ‘special guest’ and the viewer’s perspective switches to the handycam which Jankoswki holds as he makes his way from the audience towards the stage, which functions as a pulpit, and shakes hands with the holy man before collapsing to the floor at his feet. Jankowski remains there for the duration of the ensuing sermon, prayers and songs of praise, acting as a prop for Spencer’s theological argument spun around the co-creation of the ‘Holy Artwork’.
The viewpoint reverts to the studio cameras as Spencer delivers a tightly-scripted sermon which cautions against a ‘one-dimensional view of art’, in other words faith, and proposes that contemporary art can act as ‘a bridge between art, religion and television’, three disparate worlds which have been brought together by this one act. Spencer proposes that God is the ‘ultimate artist’ and only true Creator but that the audience can also be ‘creatives’.
In his dedication prayer, Spencer identifies the purpose of the The Holy Artwork:
To reach into the hearts of those watching one-dimensionally and let them know that there are many dimensions to the body, soul and spirit ...
Let this art, this Holy Art, last beyond even our lives ...
May this artwork last and continue to teach the message.
May it even expand our definition of art.
And let this artwork - Father, God, we pray - question and challenge the art world and bring it to a level of spiritual dimension.
Father, we want this Holy Artwork to make people in The Church understand the value of contemporary art, and we pray that this artwork, this Holy Artwork, will be a bridge between art, religion and television.
(Quoted in The Holy Artwork: Christian Jankowski p.220–21.)
While the artist appears to be a prop for Spencer’s sermon the irony will not be lost on a gallery audience that this event has been framed by Jankowksi to serve his grand concept. This humorous work raises questions about the place of the spiritual and the sacrosanct in art, as much as it provides a critique of the religious entertainment industry, propagated through mass media spectacle.
While Jankowski had no control over the final content of the sermon, he approached over thirty televangelists before finding Spencer who convinced him with his views about the divine inspiration of the artist. The starting point for The Holy Artwork is said by Philipp Kaiser (Merian, p.15) to have been a painting called Saint Dominic in Soriano Ri (1630s) by Juan Bautista Maino (1578–1649) which depicts a painter lying on the floor in front of his unfinished canvas while an angel, who has just flown in through the window, completes it.
As in Telemistica 1999, where Jankowski turned to a television psychic to see if his work would be successful, and Desperately Seeking Artwork 1997, where he visited a therapist to analyse his inability to make new work, the artist uses performance here to satirize the mystified figure of the artist.
At the end of the video Pastor Spencer pulls the artist up in an action reminiscent of a resurrection. His prayer that ‘this Holy Artwork [might] expand our definition of art’ has been answered by this ritual act.
The artist has specified that the video work, which is number four in an edition of five plus two artist’s proofs, should be displayed in a self-contained room. It is projected to approximately 3 x 4 metres, with speakers for sound.
Christoph Merian, Dramensatz: Christian Jankowski, Basel 2003, pp.15–17.
Sabine Eckmann, Christian Jankowksi, exhibition catalogue, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Roma, Milan 2003, pp.32–45.
Christian Jankowski, The Holy Artwork: Christian Jankowski, exhibition booklet, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 2002.