Wednesday 1 March 2017

Review by Robert Richardson of “The Sound of Laughter Isn’t Necessarily Funny.” An exhibition by Jonathan Monk: The Gallery, Vijay Patel Building, De Montfort University, Leicester, 27 January – 11 March 2017

After a period living and working in Los Angeles, the acclaimed British artist Jonathan Monk has been a long term resident of Berlin. With The Sound Of Laughter Isn’t Necessarily Funny, he returns, through this exhibition, to his Leicester roots. By showing at The Gallery, the exhibition space of The Vijay Patel Building, De Montfort University’s impressive new centre for art and design, he is back at the institution, when it was Leicester Polytechnic, where he completed an art foundation course before studying at Glasgow School of Art.

There might only be five installations but it is definitely a case of less is more, since they distil the vast themes of time and memory. It is rewarding, and indeed necessary, for visitors to invest a little of their own time in order to experience sounds from two of the artworks and movements of another. They take place at intervals that are not too long.

Conceptual Art can sometimes be dry, but, here, Monk’s version has the entertaining actors of chiming grandfather clocks, a self-playing piano, and a packaged but dismembered doll timed to move up and down, making its eyes open and close. The exhibition text helps to explain the personal meanings behind My Mother Cleaning My Father’s Piano and the animatronic The Way We Work Within The World.

Hand Holding Negative is a subversion of exhibition expectations, as it is a light box placed extremely high on a gallery wall (this positioning being part of the artwork). It is just possible to see it is Morrissey and read the words ‘The Smiths.’ Was Monk a fan during his Leicester youth, with the past now difficult to see? Or does he want to alienate the viewer, just as his two grandfather clocks, The Odd Couple, in another part of the gallery, closely face each other and turn their backs on us?

This exciting new venue for international contemporary art in Leicester has rejected the traditional white cube. There is more floor space than wall space, and it seems destined to be biased towards installations and sculpture. One of the longer sides of the gallery is entirely window, and Monk’s Senzo Titolo IV has been placed close to it, art either challenging the world passing by or blind and helpless. It presents not the head of a man but the sculpture of the head of a man, a man already in quotation marks. This is a pretend sculpture that Monk has deliberately damaged, which of course means it is not damaged at all. The subtitle of the piece is ‘Jesmonite bust with nose broken by Maurizio Cattelan,’ and this brings in the referencing of other contemporary artists for which Monk has become, in the art world at least, well known.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London). He has recently exhibited online with the Paris based Corridor Elephant publishing project, and is a member of the Biennale Austria association of contemporary artists. In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany. He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York).

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