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The 48-year-old German artist, known for subversive and mischievous hijinks, is curating the Manifesta 11 biennial with nods to the avant garde art movement. 

BY MARINA CASHDAN

Christian Jankowski. (Photo: Marvin Zilm/Surface)

Christian Jankowski. (Photo: Marvin Zilm/Surface)

“I always see art as especially successful when it develops a life of its own beyond the normal confines of the art world,” says artist Christian Jankowski, who takes the helm as the curator for this year’s Manifesta 11 biennial, opening in Zurich in June. Jankowski, who has been known to sell a yacht as an artwork (“The Finest Art on Water,” his Frieze London 2011 artist commission), engage Italian television fortune tellers on his future success (“Telemistica,” at the 1999 Venice Biennale), and host a live auction in which an auctioneer is progressively stripped of his clothes (“Strip the Auctioneer,” staged at a Christie’s auction house in Amsterdam in 2009) is the first-ever artist invited to curate the 22-year-old European biennial, which is hosted in a different European city every two years. 

The biennial follows the theme “What People Do for Money: Some Joint Ventures.” “My hope was to link to the artistic tradition of the international Dada movement in a way that would be fresh and relevant,” says Manifesta founding director Hedwig Fijen, whose nod to the 100th anniversary of Dada led her decision to bring on Jankowski as curator. “His concept draws on principles that are central to his own artistic investigations: collaborations, the inclusion of audiences from outside the circle of art professionals, and reflection on mass-media formats.” 

For Jankowski, the Manifesta Foundation’s decision to host the roving biennial in Zurich felt perfectly aligned with the biennial’s theme: “The guilds of Zurich provided decisive momentum for the city’s development into a financial and economic metropolis. The money derived from this facilitated the production of art, making the city attractive to top galleries. These created ideal conditions for trades to emerge in art.” He adds, “Zurich and I share a common weakness. We love art and we love professions.” 

A serial collaborator in his own practice, Jankowski tasked 30 artists to work with Zurich professionals on projects — or, as he calls them, “joint ventures.” Some examples: Jon Rafman will work with a local spa owner, Guillaume Bijl with a dog stylist, and John Arnold with a chef. Films documenting the projects will be screened in an open-air cinema on a floating structure, the Pavillion of Reflections, on Lake Zurich. Alongside all this, Jankowski and the writer Francesca Gavin will co-curate “The Historical Exhibition: Sites Under Construction” featuring artists such as Andreas Gursky, Sophie Calle, and Kim Gordon. And Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dada, will be transformed into an office building that reviews artists’ proposals.

“Manifesta 11 sees the artist as someone engaged with the environment,” Jankowski says. “It’s time to get out of the studio, out of the white cube, out of the usual interpretation of artworks.”