Playing the Game: An Interview with Jomar Statkun



Fans of Jomar Statkun’s work might want to make repeated visits to his first New York solo show “Project 0014,” at Garis & Hahn gallery on Bowery. The exhibition (Jan. 19-Feb. 23) is divided into five “presentations,” ranging from a day devoted to an elaborate board game about the art world to a long-distance collaboration with a Chinese painting reproduction factory.

As part of the nomadic collective This Red Door (currently in residence at Kunsthalle Galapagos in Dumbo), Statkun has championed participatory art. In his own multilayered work he constantly foregrounds the material conditions of art (making, showing and selling it), often with sharp critiques lurking beneath the user-friendly facade.

The artist conversed with A.i.A. via e-mail about his upcoming show.

RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN Your exhibition at Garis & Hahn is unusual in many ways. As I understand it, the show will begin with all the art in the basement, and the ground floor gallery will be completely empty. Gradually artworks will migrate upstairs, filling up the space. This sounds like how This Red Door runs its residencies. For you, why is it important to start with an empty space?

JOMAR STATKUN I use the idea of empty in the description of the show almost as an attempt to suggest the opposite. When people visit the space, it will be filled with me, and them, their expectations, ideas, questions and answers. One aspect of This Red Door for me (and cofounders Jared Friedman and Christopher Stackhouse) is how the idea of “filling” something can lead to fundamental questions. Why be an artist? Why “make” something? Why fill something or someplace with anything?

RUBINSTEIN One part of the show involves L’artisan, a board game about the art world that you have adapted from the popular German board game Carcassonne, in which players compete to occupy and develop land and cities. What inspired you to translate the art world into a board game?

STATKUN Well, the art world (if you choose to play) can be a brutal place, and in this game it gets even more brutal—there is only one winner. There are at least a few winners in the real art world. However, with the game, you can play more than once. By transposing the game into an art world setting, it almost becomes a learning tool for an artist to navigate a career path. Players take on the role of artists and place their works in graduate schools, galleries, art fairs, museums and along collector’s paths. They use their artwork to gain points in accumulating cultural capital and resources, such as a MacArthur grant or exhibition catalogues. The use of critics and curators helps to increase opportunities in the game. As the name of the game suggests, it was handmade (by me). There are pieces made of clay, tiles manipulated and cut, a wooden box to contain the pieces. As a cerebral and strategic, chesslike game, it was important for me to craft all of its objects. Duchamp is pictured on the cover, smoking his pipe and looking over the pieces of L’artisan, as if he were studying his next move. I suppose it could be seen as a game about Duchamp and how the rest of us are continuing a game he started.

RUBINSTEIN You will be taking on multiple roles during your show, as artist, of course, but also as curator, dealer and art handler. You seem to be following Martin Kippenberger’s model of the “full-service artist,” assuming responsibility for all the aspects of exhibiting your work. (Actually, I think you are taking it further than Kippenberger did.) Why is doing this important to you?

STATKUN I think the experience of a “piece of art” goes well beyond simply considering how it was made. Think of an artwork like a child, your own child. At first, it is a baby, innocent and new to the world. It’s in your hands to make decisions about how it will grow and learn: What is right?, What is wrong?, What’s important?, What is to be feared? It’s up to you (the artist) to determine the way the artwork, fresh out of the womb, develops or enters the world, what situations it will be placed in. So, with this idea, essentially at the beginning of an artwork’s life, you are in charge of its handling, curation, dealings, babysitters, etc.

RUBINSTEIN For several years you’ve been working with a painting reproduction factory in China, having the workers/artists there make paintings for you. How are the Chinese painters going to be involved in this show?

STATKUN We’ve developed a curious relationship, a kind of collaboration of sorts. They have painted portraits of themselves for performances that I’ve had. I’ve asked them to paint anything they would like to make at a particular size. For this show, I took photographs of the empty gallery. In the photos, I blackened an area on the walls where artworks might hang. I sent these images to China and asked the painters to make paintings of the gallery space and insert depictions of their own canvases as if they were hanging on the walls. We’ll see what happens.

RUBINSTEIN The press release for your show says that the last week will be “devoted to criticism.” As a critic, I’m of course curious about how you are going to engage criticism. Does your multitasking extend to reviewing your own show?

STATKUN I love that idea. I guess the reason I left it for the last is that I’m not sure myself what a week “devoted to criticism” could mean.