Studio Interview with Concept Artist Jonathan Monk

    UGL: Jonathan Monk, would you guess the name of one of my grandmothers?   JM: You want me to do it now?   UGL: Yes, please.   JM: Hm.. Dorothea?   UGL: No, that’s wrong. You did something similar with collectors of yours as part of your artistic practice. So, was this art now?   JM: I'm not sure, but it might have been. I think that particular guess probably wasn’t art, but the idea of me continuously guessing in an attempt to find out some personal information by pure chance could be seen as art. The work is only complete when I guess correctly. It doesn’t have to be art, it could be also a game, but that can be part of the art as well

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. For most people it wouldn’t be seen as art – that is also fine. I think it should only be important to the sender and the recipient.    
Detail of Jonathan Monk: 'Dancing With Gerhard' of 1995, 4 color photographs (c) the artist courtesy Nicolai Wallner


UGL: Let’s talk about painting. David Shrigley once said that you were a pretty good painter back in art school.


JM: People say a lot of things. Well, I don’t think I was a particularly good painter. It wasn't really important to me what things looked like. I had just left high school. Painting has the weight of history on its side - this is sometimes very good and sometimes very bad. I still make paintings. Some of them I paint myself, for others I employ trained professionals or complete amateurs.


UGL: I like your work from the mid-1990s, called ‘Dancing with Gerhard’. It depicts you dancing in front of two grey monochrome Gerhard Richter paintings. It seems to me that every young artist or painter has to work against the icon Richter. There is now also the big retrospective here in Berlin. How do you think about Richter?


JM: I do not think about him. I think he is an important figure. However, I don’t even think of him that much as a painter. Some things look like paintings, some things look like photographs, some things only look like paintings because there is paint involved, otherwise they could be something else. Obviously, he has been very influential since the early 1960s but I think there are a lot more possibilities in painting. It is a straight forward act of discovery and experimentation. Once something has been done, it can be done again in a different colour.



Jonathan Monk: 'One Minute Painting (Pink, red, blue, yellow)' of 2011, Acrylic and spraypaint on canvas, dm.130 cm, Unique (c) the artist courtesy of Galleri Nicolai Wallner


UGL: Recently, you did your One-Minute-Paintings. What is the idea behind them?


JM: I was trying to do something incredibly quickly. It came from a number of different sources, John Latham's one second paintings of spray paint on paper and the simple movement of a clock. Each dot was painted for exactly one second and the entire painting had to be finished in one minute. I hope they are quite beautiful. But it was less about painting and more about process. The production is visible but the beauty of the work is its simplicity or something like that.


UGL: Did you do the One-Minute-paintings by yourself?


JM: Yes, I did them myself, but I had people helping me: I sprayed the colour on the canvas and I moved around them. There were two assistants shaking the cans and then there was someone shouting what colour came next. There was no skill involved at all, but that is not important.



Jonathan Monk: 'This Painting Should Be Installed by a Lawyer' of 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 160 x 110 cm, Unique, (c) the artist courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner


UGL: At last year’s Art Basel, I first saw your work series ‘This painting should be installed by a banker’, or ‘…a lawyer’, or ‘…a prostitute’ and the like. They really made me laugh. Do these paintings relate to Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept of Relational Aesthetics?


JM: I suppose, in a roundabout way they do. It was more about the life of a work and what happens to it when it leaves the studio or the gallery and who should be involved in this process afterwards. The work only can be completed when it is, hopefully, installed by a banker or whoever is named. If you buy for instants the ‘…prostitute’, you actually have to employ a prostitute to install the painting. This also means, if there is no prostitute available, the painting must simply lean against the wall.


Most of the time, I cannot control what happens to a work, when it leaves the gallery. Here I can at least control, who hangs it on the wall. This series started in Paris, when I employed circus troupe to install a series of paintings. Some are now in a show at the Kunsthalle Vienna. Installed by an Austrian circus school. I am interested in the possibilities of how to control my work once it has left the studio.



Jonathan Monk working on his piece 'The World in Denim'


UGL: Your work often plays with the price for art. How do you feel about the current situation of the art market in general?


JM: I try not to think about it too much. I think it is always up and down anyway. It is sadly controlled by outside forces.


UGL: How do you feel about art fairs?


JM: The problem with fairs is the same as with art magazines: In the end they all seem to be controlled. Controlled by people who have a lot of money. It takes a lot of money to get in the important fairs. This leaves certain galleries outside. Because everyone wants to do Art Basel, which is the biggest of all, the fair has a huge influence. The fairs can make or break an artist. If the gallery you work with is involved, then perfect, but if it is not, what does this mean? It’s really the fairs that control the art world - much more than they used to. The big art fairs have more influence than curators, critics or museums. Although I guess some galleries are bigger than all of them put together. Power and marketing.


The problem is: The galleries rely on the big art fairs and the artists rely on the galleries. So artists need to make things for fairs. I think that is a shame. I try to make things that might be on a fair, but also somewhere else. If you show a work in a fair, it is a success if it sells. And in the context of a fair, this is the job of the work. But in general that shouldn’t be the job of art. The importance of a work shouldn’t be controlled by a collector or whether a work is sold or not. It is a little bit awkward now, because of the power of the fairs. And if a work doesn’t sell a fair, you cannot do anything with it for 2 or 3 years, because someone will remember having seen it in Miami or Basel. It is kind of annoying, but if you play the game you have to accept this. Or work against it.


UGL: And is this really important?

JM: I don’t think so.



Jonathan Monk and part of his book collection, 2012, (c) UGL


UGL: Your work often contains a sense of humour. I think it was Woody Allen, who once said ‘The creation of comedy is an entirely serious and boring business.’ Would you agree to him?


JM: Yes, that is true. I mean, I don’t think that I am very funny, being funny is difficult. When you meet a comedian you immediately want him/her to make you laugh, but it just doesn’t always work. Sometimes it is easier not to think about it too much. There is not a lot of humour in art. Which is funny in itself.


UGL: Do you think it is possible to appreciate your work without a deeper knowledge of art history?


JM: Yes, but I think it adds something to it, if you have a deeper understanding of art history. To be honest, this is true with all things in art and all parts of everything. You could look at a Monet and simply enjoy the colours, but if you know more about it, you will get more from it. You can look at an old car and enjoy it, but if you know more about it, you will get more pleasure from it. Etc.



Jonathan Monk in his studio, 2012 (c) UGL


UGL: What are you working on currently?


JM: I am doing lots of things. I like to think of myself as a chef in a small but fine restaurant. I have lots of sauce pans on the stove and must prevent them from burning. I am moving lots of things at the same time in different places. Mainly here in Berlin, but also in Copenhagen or New York or London or Milan or Turin or Paris or. Recently, I did a number of works, in which I asked a father and a son make a piece together. Two car doors painted in a car body shop here in Berlin owned by a father and his son. I asked each of them to paint one of the doors. I didn't tell them what to do and I don’t know what they are going to do. These are the kind of projects that I like instigate: I have no idea what I will get and I do not know where it will take me.



Installation view at Casey Kaplan Gallery of Jonathan Monk: 'Rew-Shay Hood Project III', 2008 - 2011, Airbrush paint, Two 1974 Plymouth Barracuda Hoods, Two hoods, each: 52 x 60 x 3.5” / 132.1 x 152.4 x 8.9cm, Unique (c) by the artist courtesy Casey Kaplan Gallery


UGL: It seems you did a lot of car part works, recently? Like the last show you did at Casey Kaplan Gallery in New York.


JM: That was another kind of project. It was inspired by Ed Ruscha and Richard Prince with all the 1970s US car parts.


UGL: Yes, it looked very American. The art you show in London, Copenhagen or New York seems to look different. Is your art different, depending on where you show or produce it?


JM: Yes, of course! I use that as an opportunity to make things possible. I like the idea that the works I have made in Copenhagen look different from the works I have made in New York, even though I often give the same instructions. The context is more than half the work.


UGL: Thank you for the interview!


JM: A pleasure.





This interview by UGL. took place on 26th April 2012 in Jonathan Monk’s studio in Berlin, Germany.






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