Recuperating Religion in Art History: conetmporary Art History, Performance, and Christian Jankoski's 'The Holy Artwork'

Document Type


Publication Date



Initially published in Performance Matters 3.1, 2017, pp. 112-115

Copyright (c) 2017 Karen Gonzalez Rice



As an art historian, I explore how endurance art and other high-stakes performance actions draw their prophetic power from artists’ religious commitments, embodied worship practices, and visual traditions of religious dissent. My approach to studying the imbrication of performance art and religion is informed by deep histories of art historical attention to religious iconography, religious practice, and religious representation stretching from the Renaissance. Despite these roots, art historical discourses around contemporary art generally have insisted on secular interpretations; religion has become a taboo subject in contemporary art history, especially in regard to avant-garde practices like performance art. This position statement discusses how I navigate the study of religiously-inflected art actions within a field committed to the secularization thesis. With a brief exploration of Christian Jankowski’s Holy Artwork (2001)—which staged a seemingly unorthodox encounter between an American evangelical preacher and a German contemporary artist—I explore the benefits, challenges, and implications of mobilizing traditional art historical methodologies in the interpretation of performance art, and I argue for the recuperation of religion as a crucial area of contemporary art historical concern.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.