Get Ready For Endless Appropriation In The “Banal Zone”

Billed as a “show within a show” that’s part of his ongoing solo exhibition at Garis & Hahn Gallery, Jomar Statkun’s “Banal Zone” is composed of Chinese-made reproductions of Richard Prince’s legally controversial “Canal Zone” paintings. (Prince was sued by Patrick Cariou, whose photographs of Rastafarians provided the basis for the famous appropriation artist’s works. After some reversals, the law backed Prince up). I spoke with the artist about his appropriated appropriations, which are on view from tonight’s opening through February 16. The larger exhibition is on view through February 23. Yes, it’s complicated; here’s more info.

How do you think Richard Prince himself would feel about your appropriations of his appropriations?

I honestly don’t know. I mean, its nothing new really–appropriations of appropriations have been going on for a long time. My use of these appropriations is actually less about Prince’s work specifically, and more about looking at the different systems in place that go into the creation or fabrication of a “work of art”. Prince’s work from his particular show (“Canal Zone”) and its court case drama, with the focus on the image’s authorship, seemed to be the perfect body of work to use as an entry point for probing the side of the art world that relies on outsourcing work and that questions authorship over an image. In my show that’s up now at Garis & Hahn, the Richard Prince/Chinese Painters aspect is just a small theme, one of many underlying themes of the show. The backbone of the show starts with the 450 artworks present that I’ve made in the last 20 years, all on view and open to be examined and handled by the visitor. One overall question running throughout the show might be, How are artworks produced, and then how does the viewer engage with them?

Like Mr. Prince, could you ever see yourself collaborating with AriZona beverage company on your own fizzy drink? What flavor would you be?

I’m not much of a sugary fizzy drink drinker. But if I had to pick a flavor it might be like a Chicken Adobo-flavored juice.

You’ve worked at Gagosian, one of the art world’s most commerce-minded mega-stores. How did that experience affect your own practice?

For some reason, when folks ask me about my time working at Gagosian, I always think of the song “I See a Darkness” by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. It was a wild time, as far as the purely commercial side of art making. I maybe saw and heard way too much. On the upside, it certainly helped me ask myself “what is this all for?” and “what do artists (or anyone for that matter) want out of this thing called Art?” It’s a tricky and slippery question to ask. There are many many paths to take along an art-making journey, but I think the heavily commerce-minded one has been the dominant one for a quite a long time, and in numerous ways, it reeks of disfunction and greed, from both sides of the fence (the maker/seller and the buyer).

Do you feel an affinity with the school of artists who work under the banner of ‘institutional critique’? How difficult is it to comment on the machinations of the art world from within?

I don’t really feel an affinity with such a school, and I don’t know if many of those folks associated with it would either. I think such a critique is underneath all practices these days, whether its on the surface of the “presentation” and directly stated or whether it’s buried behind the artist’s decisions (even in a subconscious way). I kind of think that there’s no “outside” of the art world. First, I think there are many “Art Worlds”, or at least many variations of systems in place that make up all different art worlds. And as far as being difficult, yeah, it all can be difficult. The bigger mechanism in place that drives the “Art World” is a beast. However, I think artists, or any “makers”, can choose how they engage with it. They say, “don’t hate the player, hate the game”, but maybe its really more of the opposite.
In the 21st century, when so many artists rely on underpaid assistants to physically produce their work, how much does it really matter that you have had your Prince copies made by a Chinese art factory?

I think the idea of “underpaid” (at least globally) can be a complex one. I suppose it can be fairly relative to where, how, and who. For example, the use of assistants in the production of artwork in the United States–that can be compared to utilizing a painting reproduction factory in China, but it also varies greatly. Such jobs in China are considered good jobs, monetarily speaking. In the US, the salary for an artist’s assistant would probably be considered underpaying, but valuable as experience. That being said, my use of a painting reproduction factory in China to have copies made of Richard Prince’s works, for me, has served as an opportunity to examine authorship and copyright while at same time presenting a possible way to have a contemporary image “reproduced” inexpensively–in this case, a weird sort of “poor man’s Richard Prince painting”. (A smart phone with a camera, in an art gallery, can do wonders.)

Jomar Statkun’s eponymous solo exhibition is on view at Garis & Hahn Gallery through February 23. His “Banal Zone” paintings will be in the gallery through February 16, with a reception from 6-8pm on February 11.

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