German artist Jana Gunstheimer (b. 1974) combines her academic training in ethnology with a refined figurative drawing practice to observe and comment on aspects of her own culture. Gunstheimer responds to the transformations she sees taking place in contemporary German society—including postindustrial desolation, drastic unemployment, and rising levels of aggression among people of her generation—by way of a semi-fictional organization she calls Nova Porta. Complete with a logo, Web site, and an actual membership, the organization offers “People without Social Function” a semblance of structure through group cohesion and rigid hierarchy.
Adopting impenetrable rituals, tireless evaluation procedures, and managed leisure, the organization’s stated goal is “risk management” and its activities are driven, if not wholly fabricated, by the artist. Under the conceptual framework of Nova Porta, Gunstheimer effectively parodies hierarchical structures, bureaucracy, and, most importantly, society’s need to define one’s worth in terms of work.
Focus: Jana Gunstheimer is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States. In one all-encompassing installation, the exhibition features exquisitely rendered, photo-based grisaille watercolors on wood panel, a large-scale paper cutout, a site-specific wall drawing, and a newspaper intervention work that all reference the initiatives of Nova Porta, adapted to the specific context of Chicago.
This exhibition is made possible by a gift in honor of the memory of Martin R. Binder for his continued devotion to the Art Institute of Chicago from Marjorie Binder. Ongoing support for Focus exhibitions is provided by the Alfred L. McDougal and Nancy Lauter McDougal Fund for Contemporary Art. Additional support from Dirk Denison.
Podcast: Hear Jana Gunstheimer explain the inner workings of the alternative society Nova Portia along with the specific events that occurred in Chicago detailed in her Focus exhibition, Status L Phenomenon.
Jana Gunstheimer. Uber F. Jungend (Ethnik), 2006. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Roger Felberbaum. Photo courtesy Galerie Römerapotheke.