The human condition has been the subject of comedy for thousands of years, from ancient Greek theater to the daily comic strip. In the past five to ten years, however, humor has turned up with increasing frequency in contemporary art, perhaps satisfying an urgent need among artists and audiences alike to reflect upon the absurdity of daily existence. In the midst of a contentious political arena, artists have been injecting a healthy dose of humor in their work, breaking down barriers between formality and familiarity, and establishing immediate rapport with their viewers. Situation Comedy presents approximately forty of these works—a selection of video and sound installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs—by younger as well as more established contemporary artists.
Their approach ranges from the slapstick farce of Danish artist Peter Land’s video performances to the hilarious incongruity of British artist Gillian Wearing’s video piece The Regulator’s Vision (1995-96). In various other mediums, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and Scottish artist David Shrigley use verbal and visual jokes to thwart our elevated expectations of art and its cultural significance, while American artists Richard Prince and Paul McCarthy employ gags, quips, and shenanigans to mirror the prejudices of contemporary society, simultaneously thumbing their noses at the insular art world. Humor is also generated by playing with the narrative tropes of familiar television sitcoms, often involving the artist as a performer and plotting a course between reality and fiction. Among the works that explore this ambiguous territory are videos by German artist Christian Jankowski, which document his public interactions with somewhat offbeat figures, from a magician to a televangelist.