Recuperating Religion in Art History: Contemporary Art History, Performance, and Christian Jankowski’s The Holy Artwork


  • Karen Gonzalez Rice Connecticut College


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.

Author Biography

Karen Gonzalez Rice, Connecticut College

Karen Gonzalez Rice is the Sue & Eugene Mercy Assistant Professor of Art History at Connecticut College.  Her book, Long Suffering: American Endurance Art as Prophetic Witness (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2016) explores the embodiment of religious practices and trauma subjectivities in the performances of Linda Montano, Ron Athey, and John Duncan.