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True Crime 

In photographer Hans Winkler's world, art can be a weapon, a motive, or a setting

Wednesday, Jan 28 2004
Heaven knows what Hans Winkler's East Village neighbors must have thought when he began documenting neighborhood crime scenes. Upon hearing of a nearby murder, Winkler would head out to photograph the surroundings. Those images may at first have seemed a departure from Winkler's style, which mostly involved his setting up a prank (sinking a gondola in a Venice canal; shambling through a German park dressed in a realistic bear suit) and then recording the reaction. But the crime-centered work is just another example of his interest in the public's response to transgressive acts.

Winkler continues to indulge his preoccupations in a new multimedia exhibit, "Crime Museum," which focuses on criminal cases in which art is a weapon, a motive, or a setting. The installations are labeled and tagged in the manner of courtroom evidence and accompanied by lurid fictionalized descriptions of the real-life events that inspired his tableaus.

Disarming the Dancer, for example, combines a blue spray bottle with a small sculpture of a figure whose broken-off arm lies nearby on the floor. Winkler's inspiration? The 1988 case in which Greasy Corner, an 11-pound chunk of butter sculpted by German artist Joseph Beuys, was accidentally thrown away by a cleaning crew. Winkler's spray bottle stands in for the hapless domestic, while the dismembered figure represents the trashed sculpture. Another piece, Cooking Recipe, looks like an ordinary spice rack -- until you notice that one of the innocuous spice jars is labeled "Poison Ivy" in honor of a murder case in which a wife allegedly offed her husband by spiking his food with the toxic plant.

Creepy? Ab-solutely. But Wink-ler's subjects exert an unwholesome yet powerful appeal. Viewers can't help but wonder about the why and how of each case -- displaying the same rubbernecking tendency Wink-ler has long recognized.

About The Author

Joyce Slaton


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