Review: Jason Hackenwerth at AXA Art/Artopolis

By now, you’ve heard some variation of this joke: A young ingenue mingles with a group of big-wigs at a social luncheon of sorts on the Upper East Side. At some point she is asked by some of the attendees if she is in a relationship. She truthfully responds that yes, she is. Curious, the attendees ask her what her boyfriend does for a living. She responds that he is an artist. “Really?”, the guests lean forward and smile, “at what restaurant?”

Yep, artists have it hard, really hard, and it’s not surprising that many (many? more like most) have to resort to cleaning houses, busing tables, bartending, and if Illinois’s history is anything to go by–run for governor, until they make it in the field. But pulling balloon tricks as a clown in Times Square?

That was the reality for Jason Hackenwerth, who, after nearly 20 years of shaping balloons into poodles and kittens, has turned his skill into an art form, and a most exceptional one at that.

Using nothing but his lungs to inflate his large-scale installations, Jackenwerth turns the balloons into majestic compositions that are part Venus Fly Trap and part underwater amoeba. Despite their grandiose size, the pieces are light as a feather, intimidating as they are mesmerizing.

The simultaneous occupation of the pieces as objects of desire and and subjects of fear allows them to circumvent an immediately recognizable space. They are as organic as they are lifeless, soothing as they are unnerving.

Hackenwerth cleverly taps into a style popularized by Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois in the 1960’s, producing artwork that refers to the body (or “a” body) without any didactic references to a body part. You want to caress the installations as much as puncture them. However, as opposed to Kusama or Bourgeois, Hackenwerth’s works are also ephemeral by nature, highighting their fragility and heightening their dramatic effect without going over the top.

Simply put, Hackenwerth’s work at AXA Art should be one of the best at this year’s Artopolis. Nothing to clown about here.

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Artist Jason Hackenwerth

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