Lisson Gallery

Jonathan Monk

Jonathan Monk
Not Me, Me

For further reading here are two excerpts about these distinct bodies of work. First a review of one of Monk's wallpaper shows that introduced the Exhibit Model concept and secondly a portion of a text by art critic Alastair Sooke on Monk's self-portrait busts. 

A Picture Is No Substitute for Anything, reads Louise Lawler and Sherrie Levine’s famous invitation card for an exhibition that was not much more than that. The framed piece of pale blue paper is part of Jonathan Monk’s Exhibit Model Four – plus invited guests, a sort-of retrospective at the Kindl brewery-cum-art space in Berlin.

Lawler and Levine’s text might appear a damning inversion of the more familiar “a picture is worth a thousand words”, particularly considering their entirely picture-free exhibition... Can a picture not be a gesture, a way of reaching out? And if it is no substitute, then that is perhaps because it is better viewed as something with a substance of its own: a thing in itself.

In his fourth show exploring this concept since 2016, Monk (b.1969, Leicester) has covered the walls of the gallery in black-and-white installation shots of his own previous exhibitions. That these now include other such self-referential ventures only adds to the dizzying impression. The black-and-white photographs blend in with the floors and walls of the space in a trompe l’oeil effect; room after room, though in different locations, photographs of photographs, all things in themselves.

The selection of physically present works in the show comes from Monk’s own collection, and makes the freshest layer in this onion-structured archive. Many date from the early days of conceptual and fluxus art and are sourced from a host of artists, whose names will come as no surprise to those familiar with Monk’s work. They include Jan Dibbets, Dan Graham, Bas Jan Ader, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman and Martin Kippenberger. 

Excerpt from Studio International review of Jonathan Monk: Exhibit Model Four – plus invited guests, by Kristian Vistrup Madsen, shown at Kindl Centre for Contemporary Art, Berlin 10 March – 21 July 2019

There is something deliberately self-aggrandising and absurd about a contemporary artist creating his own bust in the middle of his career. This bombast is compounded by the narcissistic act of placing each self-portrait upon a separate pedestal. Jeff Koons recognised this when he commissioned his own marble Self-Portrait in 1991 (the series to which that overblown bust belonged in part inspired Monk’s new work). In a sense, then, Monk is offering a satire on the self-importance of some contemporary art. “There is grandiosity to a bust,” he says, “whereas I hope I am modest.”

This is why the discrepancy between the bust itself and the man who made it is so striking. Republican Roman busts were up front: they appeared as frank and sincere as possible, in order to secure a place in the echelons of posterity. More than two millennia later, Monk’s bust is less straightforward, but more ambivalent and playful. It is purposefully tongue-in-cheek. Unlike the ancient Romans, who were striving for power and immortality, Monk has placed himself upon a pedestal in order to get knocked down

Excerpt from an essay by Alastair Sooke on the occasion of Senza Titolo, Lisson Gallery Milan, 2013


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