Monica Bonvicini

on the occasion of the exhibition at Kunsthalle Bielefeld


10 10 20 / 21 02 21

Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna) is pleased to launch an online exhibition of works by Monica Bonvicini simultaneously with the galleries Peter Kilchmann (Zurich), König Galerie (Berlin) and Mitchel-Innes & Nash (New York). The individual presentations will be on display on each of the four galleries websites and are presenting different groups of works from Monica Bonvicini’s current solo exhibition Lover’s Material at Kunsthalle Bielefeld (on view until February 21, 2021)

In her work, the internationally renowned artist Monica Bonvicini examines themes such as institutional critique, the relationship between gender and feminism, and the exercise of control and power. Bonvicini is known for her site-specific installations that deconstruct and question the architecture of art institutions in humorous ways. For the motif on the invitation to the exhibition in Bielefeld, she selected a 2020 drawing that refers to Philip Johnson, the architect of the Kunsthalle, who strove to create a clear setting for the modernist project with his International style building for the museum.

The show’s title, LOVER‘S MATERIAL is a reference to the author Franz Schulzes characterization of the relationship between Johnson and his partner Jon Stroup. In Schulze’s biography of Johnson, Stroup is described as «comfortably passive». For Bonvicini, this opened up the notion that relationships can also be defined as something both objectifying and rationalizing. Starting with this idea, the whole exhibition delves into the relationships—economic and private, as well as political—that are linked to exhibition spaces. How can the artist’s relationship to the museum’s site, its works of art, its visitors, or its employees be defined, and what kind of dependencies are created?

Besides many new works of art, such as installations, sculptures, a video, and drawings made for the show, a glass sculpture titled «Up in Arms» (2019) will also be on display. As a visual wordplay, the piece—a reproduction of the artist’s arms in pink cut-glass—symbolizes both tenderness and tension, as well as the call for resistance and protest proclaimed in its title. This connection characterizes many of the artist’s new works, which have been produced under the contrasting impressions of today’s worldwide protests and the isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, private and public space, coercion and freedom exemplify the tensions of the current year.

Monica Bonvicini is the recipient of prominent international art prizes. Among them are the Golden Lion from the Venice Biennale (1999), the Nationalgalerie Berlin prize (2005), and more recently the Oskar Kokoschka Prize (2020). Her works have been shown several times at various Venice Biennales and the Berlin Biennial, and this fall they will be on display at the Quadriennale in Rome, the Busan Biennial, and at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. Aside from the numerous appearances of her art in national and international group shows, comprehensive shows of her artwork have been seen at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (2016), the 15th Instanbul Biennial (2017), the Belvedere 21 in Vienna (2019) and the OGR (Officine Grandi Riparazioni), Turin (2019).

Curator: Christina Végh
Curatorial Assistant: Laura Rehme

Marlboro Man

2019, digital print on aluminium, 400 x 620 cm, Ed. 3 + 1AP

The installation comprises an aluminum wall which bears a print of a cowboy figure, similar to the iconic visual of Marlboro cigarettes’ advertisement known as Marlboro Man. Before many governments started to ban the tobacco advertisement, the Marlboro Manwas publicly perceived as a prototypical male figure in the United States, integrating many various stereotypes into the marketing-wise successful image. In Monica Bonvicini’s installation, it rides straight to us, the exhibition visitors, like a ghost from a past, appearing in a blurred metallic landscape that obscures our space orientation.
Bonvicini reappropriates the archetype of Marlboro Man, the perhaps most successful male image of pop culture. The work addresses the disparities based on gender that are ubiquitous in the art field and art history as well as it debates the value of art objects within the relatively closed circuits of the industry that often lacks the measures of self-assessment and auto-critique.

Lover’s Material

Weep Me + Ardent Lover

2020, spray paint on Fabriano paper, mounted on aluminum 75 x 50 cm (each), unique

Lover’s Material is a series of drawings in varying sizes, executed in spray paint and tempera on archival paper. The drawings are almost abstract as only minimal renditions of recognizable elements are visible. For example, some works have a geometrical pattern in the background reminiscent of metal mesh grids. In some of the paintings, one also finds loosely positioned chains, depicted still or in a swaying motion. Most of the works have text elements painted in pink or coral tempera to the fore of their patter-like background. The chosen typography is stenciled letters in a serif font. Combining spray paint and tempera, the work juxtaposes two different painting techniques and their cultural associations. Tempera is regarded as an old technique, belonging to the classical and especially religious genre of painting. Spray paint is an industrial medium, widely spread in industrial manufacturing. It is also typically related to graffiti and street arts.
The drawings seem to create a space of black, dark grey and pink nebulous landscape, from which the mesh, the chains and the text lines appear. In contrast to the indefinite background, the text lines strike startlingly real and present. While the bright colors make them stand out visually, the stenciled bold letters bring up associations with common uses of such font style, those requiring quick, effective production of a very well-legible text. For instance, signs of various kinds (indicating private property or a dangerous area) may be written in similar fonts. Political banners that express messages of disapproval or public demands often bear stenciled letters. The conceptual tie to a political banner, a sign of protest, is also supported by the portrait format of the paintings.
The writing holds an important place in Bonvicini’s practice, whose many larger-scale works are based on phrases, lyrics or, as in this instance, quotes. The text in Lover’s Material comes from a selection taken from several sources. Many messages reproduced in the works originate in A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes. One can also find quotes and fragments from works by Judith Butler, Natalie Diaz, Soraya Chemaly, Andrea Dworkin and the memoirs of Philip Johnson. These writings were research and reflection material for the preparation of Monica Bonvicini’s solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Bielefeld. After finding the appropriate passages to be reproduced in the paintings, the artist sometimes reversed them, cut shorter, changed the order of words. Some quotes are therefore hardly recognizable, yet they attained a new, poetical dimension: “Weep Me Crude,” “Power Joy Humor & Resistance,” “I Never Tire.” The textual component of the work collects and relays a specific ‘dictionary,’ a set of connotations that the viewer can comprehend and relate to. It touches upon the ambiguities of a (romantic) relationship, those that originate in socially defined and politically installed norms and roles.

Black Chain Grid #4

2020, tempera and spraypaint on Fabriano-Paper, mounted on aluminium, 200 x 150 cm, unique


And Politically

2020, spray paint on Fabriano paper, mounted on aluminum 153 x 100 cm, unique


Breach of Decor

2020, textile print, dimensions variable

Presented lying on the floor, the work is a colorful carpet that the visitors can walk on. It is made out of several different parts fixed together in the style of a large-scale quilt. The individual parts reproduce photos of the floor, taken from atop in various places and thus showing different flooring (tiles, wooden floor, other carpets). The artist took the photographs herself over the course of almost two years at home but also in hotels while travelling. In each of the photographic motifs, a pair of pants (most often – jeans) is captured lying mostly inside-out. The mechanically woven carpet reproduces the photographs in clear detail and renders the pants in an almost sculptural, three-dimensional style.
Pants and the history of the clothing bear references to strictly binary gender roles that the clothes tend to reinforce by performing them. Pants were exclusively male clothing until the second half of the 19th century. They received a symbolic value in feminist movements, visualizing the strive for emancipation and equal rights. Feminist artist Valie Export in her performance Aktionshose: Genitalpanik (1969) cut the crotch of her black trousers and went to the cinema. Photographs capturing her wearing a leather jacket and holding a machine pistol serve as a visual record of this event. Being the piece of garderobe that covers the most intimate parts of a human body, pants also gather certain stereotypes around decency, behavior in public, eroticism and sexuality. These are typically unspoken and hardly noticeable, but they shape certain socially widely distributed images/imaginations, for example, an image of a male stripper, ripping off his pants.
Taking from these points of departure, Bonvicini’s Breach of Decor comments on the intimacy and its spatial boundaries between public and private. The gesture of taking one’s pants off is strongly linked to the feeling of being at home, feeling safe in a domestic environment. Arranged one next to the other in a grid, the photos assemble a visual diary of coming back, entering, transitioning from outside to inside. It refers to various physical habits that we develop to accommodate space, daily rituals that structure our environment to certain psychological binaries: mine and theirs, inside and outside, foreign and domestic. As visitors are invited to step on the carpet and wander, they are offered introspects into someone’s private space, intimate setting, but they also find themselves in the same position of the pants’ bearer and are confronted with their own preconceptions of intimacy and exposure.

Breach of Decor (light blue) + Breach of Decor (red pepper) + Breach of Decor (violet)

2020, print on textile, 180 x 240 cm, edition of 5 + 2AP

Breach of Decor (ceramic green) + Breach of Decor (blue flowers) + Breach of Decor (black and white) +  Breach of Decor (light rose)

2020 textile print, 90 x 240 cm (each), edition of 5 + 2AP

Breach of Decor (innocent white) + Breach of Decor (washed out) + Breach of Decor (striped) + Breach of Decor (tangling brown)

2020 textile print, 120 x 180 cm (each), edition of 5 + 2AP


Breach of Decor (dusty pink)

2020 textile print,180 x 240 cm, edition of 5 + 2AP


Little Liar

2020, gel print on Vlies wallpaper, 385 x 385 cm, edition 3 + 1AP


Little Liar is a gel print of an earlier spray paint drawing that was exclusively produced for the debut record of the emerging Berlin-based pop band La Stampa in 2011. The print features a montage of an spacious interior setting with a large divan, wooden table and colorful flowers. These are juxtaposed with a dirty foot in the middle of the print, a background covered with black spray paint and negatives of heavy steel chains whose lines form a distorted heart. Although the music does not refer to this imagery per se, it transforms its acoustic qualities into a visual language simultaneously creates and destroys tensions to create something new.

All the Pretty Horses

2020, powder coated steel, glass, precast concrete blocks, size (incl. pedestals): 201 x 190 x 140 cm, unique


The work consists of three human-size sculptures covered in black rubber, shaped after Bottle Racks by Marcel Duchamp. The title of this work is borrowed from the eponymous coming-of-age novel by Cormac McCarthy which deals with the 16-year-old John Grady Cole and his departure to Mexico where he starts working as a cowboy. Within this context, the sculptures may appear as organic forms of cacti and other desert’s flora, reminiscent of the protagonist’s journey. The transition from the abstract (conceptual) sculpture of Duchamp to (again) a figurative prop-object seems to defy the initial Duchampian speculation behind the found-object character.

Be Your Mirror

2020, aluminium panels, PU foam, 396 x 950 x 2,8 cm, ed 3/3 + 1AP


Be Your Mirror, four meters high and more than ten meters long part of a museum wall is covered with 20 industrially produced aluminum panels. The metal surface creates a dazzling effect of reflection. The silhouettes of passers-by are blurred and unclear. The room is mirrored in greyish tones, it appears as an adjacent space filled with fog. The work follows the previous metal installations presented in Monica Bonvicini’s exhibition in Berlinische Galerie, where the exhibition room has been divided by a large blind wall, reverberating as visitors slammed its doors, and Belvedere 21 (formerly 21er Haus) in Vienna, where the aluminum walls formed a mirroring cube in reference to the institution’s architecture.

In the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, the work is activated with a performative component of a museum’s worker daily polishing the part of the work throughout the time of the exhibition. The polished area becomes larger as the exhibition continues, and the reflection in the aluminum surface becomes more clear, almost mirror-like. The work brings up the concepts of care, cleaning, maintenance, archetypal museological activities that partake in the larger process of artwork production, conservation, and mediation. Reminiscent of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ service-orientated practice, Be Your Mirror exhibits the domestic side of the institution, which otherwise would remain hidden, performed after public hours or in high discreteness (the polishing in particular is borrowed from the Kunsthalle’s architecture, which floor requires continuous and meticulous cleaning). The performative, demonstrative element of the work wryly critiques the cleanliness of art exhibiting conditions, the standard measures for museums and galleries, and its consequential neutralization of culture.

This critique is further supported by the material itself, the grey aluminum panels that create an effect of the cold and sanitized surface. The visual or sensory associations that the aluminum evokes are in the range of unpleasant, reminiscent of those surfaces in hospitals and mortuaries. Bonvicini tactically employs the metal panels to create her own version of the art’s sepulchre, a metonym for a dead-space museum that Theodor W. Adorno developed in his essay Valéry Proust Museum. On the other hand, Be Your Mirror remains a live space, slowly but continuously changing its appearance each day, taken care of and getting finalized, finished by the maintenance staff.

The Beauty You Offer Under the Electric Light

2016, bronze, white lacquer, 11 x 6 x 2 cm, ed. 5+2AP


The edition artwork The Beauty You Offer under the Electric Light is an eloquent intervention into an architectural space. A bronze sculpture mimics a typical light switch, an element which is ubiquitous in modern interiors. The artist takes this simple utensil, almost overlooked and forgotten through everyday use, and reshapes it with humour and critical astuteness. Essentially, a light switch offers a complete radical change of an environment – it makes a room bright or dark, public or private, ordinary or intimate. As such, the tiny instrument orchestrates lives, prompts reactions and reconfigures spaces. The bronze switch of Monica Bonvicini, however, is dysfunctional, it cannot be switched. Similarly to the subversion of its function, the writing on it reads “NO,” as a mirrored version of the typical indication “ON.” The language-gesture suggests: resistance and protest can be practised in everyday life and its smallest instances.

Time of My Life
2020, digitalwatches, stainless steel, mirror panels on MDF, 105 x 90 x 90 cm  


This sculpture is comprised of about 300 watches by the producer Farill in silver, gold and rose gold, which reference the iconic vintage series introduced by Casio in the 1990s. Being a novelty in 1974, Casio was the first producer to launch digital watches with an LED screen, which have quickly become very popular and esteemed for its affordability, durability and timeless design.
Connected to one another, intertwined, and assembled in the fashion of a large sphere, this sculpture transforms the abstract concept of time into a physical object that becomes almost palpable. All watches will briefly ring every hour and a longer alarm will sound at a specific time within a period of seven hours every day. Since every watch is set to a unique time, the alarm loses its original function to remain in control over time and avoid delays or simply as a reminder. Rather, it becomes an instrument in a symphony of time, with playful yet distressing volumes, pitches and rhythms.


2011, Murano glass, rubber, paint, wood, glass, light, 109 x 50 x 50 cm, unique


Grab Them by the Balls #1

2020, bronze, 7,5 x 25,5 x 14 cm, unlimited edition


Pendant (Guilt) #2

2020, aluminum cast, glass, cable, asphalt paint on aluminum, 70 x 130 x 7 cm, unique


See a White Building

2020, Full HD, video projection, color, 16:9 video, stereo sound, ed.2/3 + 1AP


I See a White Building, Pink and Blue (2020) is a video installation, a wall-high projection of abstract moving image accompanied by loud monotonous sound. The video is mostly dim and grey-toned but occasionally the viewer recognizes some fragments: rays of light protruding, shiny shapes in diamond’s forms, an upside-down car parked by the street. Like these interruptions, the sound, almost noise is interrupted by “light-hearted” chirping of birds, suggesting the vernal genre of the video work. Altogether with circular camera movements, the installation produces a physical effect on the viewers, which can be described as hallucinatory or ‘trippy.’

The moving scene is, however, real and was shot by the artist during the lockdown COVID–19 period while taking daily bicycle rides to her studio. What we see and hear is the footage filmed via a smartphone, which in turn has been the singular “opening” to the outer world for many people locked inside their homes. The sound is the original one made by the body movement of the artist and resemble the rhythm of a heart or blood pumping. The title of the work is borrowed from the British neurologist Oliver Sacks talking about hallucinations.  He describes a woman who had experienced some, like seeing building in changing, flashy color. She recognizes them as being not a dream but more like a film, one that she doesn’t really want or choose to see.  Like her experience I See a White Building, Pink and Blue is a work suggestive of our global, social and political vision in the current times.