Jana Gunstheimer: Art Institute of Chicago
Yood, James, Artforum International
What if several elite and prestigious landmark homes and apartment complexes around your city metamorphosed, suddenly and inexplicably, into blue-collar, working-class residences? Such was the premise of "Status L Phenomenon," Jana Gunstheimer's first museum exhibition in the US. Gunstheimer envisions what would happen if a pair of century-old Chicago mansions and the Miesian Lake Point Tower on Navy Pier were to experience this transubstantiation, and she documents aspects of the displacement--physical and psychological--of their residents in a series of trompe l'oeil watercolors, two mixed-media wall installations, and a fictitious tabloid newspaper, Chicago News.
The suggested metaphor seems at first to be one of economic and social comeuppance, with the proletariat overthrowing the haute-bourgeoisie in a kind of degentrification, or squatters triumphans. But that's actually not what Gunstheimer's project is about. The show was centered on how the media--the daily press in particular--reports the news, and on how people adapt to extraordinary changes in their environment. Gunstheimer's fifteen new watercolors are highly naturalistic renditions of the images surrounding her imaginary scenario of architectural and sociological transformation as reported by newspapers from around the world, including the Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine. The documentary immediacy of these images, the way in which they share space with headlines and logos, speaks to the power of the visual component of news, how it inevitably constructs narrative. The artist's before-and-after images of Lake Point Tower's shift into what seems a generic modernist housing project, as depicted by the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, provide a blunt visual record of the metamorphosis, image as grisaille fact.
The context of the watercolors becomes clearer in Status L Phenomenon # 18 (all works 2007), a stack of copies of Gunstheimer's free, eight-page rag. …