“Without (Jonathan Monk)”
With Olivier Babin, Pierre Bismuth, Christian Burnoski, Ryan Gander, Alex O., Dan Rees, Ariel Schlesinger, Yann Sérandour, Markus Sixay, Ron Terada, & works from the collection of Jonathan Monk
In Ecce Bombo, a cult, late-70s movie by Nanni Moretti, there is an iconic scene in which the protagonist, Moretti himself, is on his way to a party. He calls a friend and asks: “Will I draw more attention to myself if I actually come to the party and spend all night in a corner, or if I don’t show up at all?” If Jonathan Monk were Moretti and the party in question were the exhibition “Without (Jonathan Monk),” the answer would be clear: by not participating in the show at all, Monk definitely stood out more than if he had actually been present.
At first glance, the curatorial structure dictated by the proclaimed non-appearance of an artist reminded me of the last Istanbul Biennial, in which curators Jens Hoffmann and Adriano Pedrosa wove together a group show that ultimately created an innovative retrospective of Felix Gonzales-Torres without there being a single work of his on view. But the connections between these two shows stop there, not only because Monk is very much alive and highly productive, but mainly because it is likely that this exhibition, curated by Adam Carr, is none other than a (meta)work by Monk himself. The other ten invited artists, it would seem, are mirrors of something deeply connected to Monk’s practice and work on a similar conceptual level. Several recurring biographical elements function as entry points to the show: even the colors of the wall labels are the yellow and blue of Monk’s hometown soccer team (in Leicester, England). The blue labels denote artworks made for the show and the yellow ones mark out those works that are part of Monk’s private collection. The collection is introduced by a label written by Monk himself in which he specifies that the “multiples, editions, and ephemera… mainly invitation cards” he owns are “not necessarily meant to be seen as art.” Yet it’s “often a very fine line,” he adds.
Taking a walk through the show, one gets the feeling that the “art world” as seen through Monk’s eyes ( he calls it a “multicolored swap shop”) is like entering a nostalgic evocation of the conceptual milieu of the 60s and 70s. In Monk’s world, time is kept by the minute movements of the clock hands in Alighiero Boetti’s Orologio Annuale (1986), while invitation cards for Bas Jan Ader’s In Search of the Miraculous (1975) are a memento of the perpetual dérive, in-between the conceptual, analytical approach and its subjective counterpart—the core of what conceptual art is all about. A sort of table tennis game, in other words, judging by the work Variable Peace vs. Jonathan Monk (2006), a video document of artist Dan Rees’s habit of challenging his artist-colleagues to a game of ping-pong. Here we find a metaphor for the tension between control and brilliance, but it is also a piece that makes explicit the importance of rallying ideas and keeping in touch with the work of other like-minded characters. The audio recording of the matches, separated from the video itself and installed separately in another part of the gallery, functions as a reflection of that exchange, one that can resonate long after it happened, as the show seems to claim.
In fact, there is not a single work in the exhibition that hasn’t been spurred on from a dialogue, a direct or indirect influence, a gift, a swap, a letter, a note. The work of art is here none other than an ephemeral witness of that exchange, fallout from the fine line that separates the artist from being a collector. If to Ryan Gander—whose piece Enough to Start Over (2006) made use of an earlier work by Monk—”appropriating one’s legacy” is a dynamic reflection on the process of the work, then the whole exhibition can be seen as a refined appropriation of Monk’s practice, here “shown” in its own primarily associative, appropriative form. And in the end, the whole system constructed by Carr’s curatorial approach seems to dissolve in Markus Sixay’s Jonathan Monk, September 7–October 27, 2012 (2012). Here Google map print-outs, hung daily on a wall in the upper floor of the gallery till the end of the show, track Monk’s movements via an app installed on his smart phone, reflecting that core conceptual tension of presence and absence; it’s a kind of Bas Jan Ader 2.0, which at the same time brings back the presence (or the body) of the artist in his live yet spectral form. Despite Carr’s stated aim to present a show that “collides the boundaries between solo and group exhibitions,” the plurality of artistic voices in this particular exhibition ultimately plays second fiddle to the dominant echo of Monk’s figure and practice.
- 1View of "Without (Jonathan Monk)," Meessen De Clercq, Brussels, 2012. All images courtesy of Meessen De Clercq, Brussels.
- 2View of "Without (Jonathan Monk)," Meessen De Clercq, Brussels, 2012. From left: Alighiero Boetti, Orologio annuale, 1986; Christian Burnoski, Freedom, 2012; Markus Sixay, Jonathan Monk September 7–Ocotber 27, 2012.
- 3Dan Rees, Variable Peace vs. Jonathan Monk, 2006. Colour video with sound, 9 minutes.
- 4Markus Sixay, Jonathan Monk, September 7–October 27, 2012, 2012. 50 inkjetprints on paper, 21 x 29,7 cm (each).
- 5View of "Without (Jonathan Monk)," Meessen De Clercq, Brussels, 2012.
- 6Ariel Schlesinger, Nothing personal, 2012. Mirror, aluminium, camping stove, gas, 50 cm x 70 cm.
- 7Dan Rees, Ryman vs. Mangold, 2005. Colour photograph, framed, 4 cm x 4 cm.