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But Monk also likes to test his powers against famous artist colleagues in other ways. His photo series None of the buildings on Sunset Strip clearly quotes Ed Ruscha’s famous artist’s book Every Building on Sunset Strip. Yet while Ruscha focused on the iconography of the American road trip by photographing motels, gas stations, and billboards, Monk’s series merely shows the intersections of cross streets on the Strip. Similarly lacking in respect and yet incredibly funny is a large-scale photograph of Monk’s portraying a cowboy hat on the lower edge of the image without the accompanying head. The rest of the picture shows a vast mountain panorama in the evening sun. The title of the photograph, The space above Bruce Nauman’s head, plays ironically on the American multi-media artist’s hat-wearing habits.




Jonathan Monk, None of the Buildings on Sunset Strip, 1998,
Photos: Dave Morgan
Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

Sol LeWitt as jungle gym, Ruscha as interstice, and Nauman as a headless Stetson – is this the way to make enemies out of one’s artist colleagues? "Oh, come on," Monk sighs; what he means is: "Be real, man!" In end effect, his art hardly affects the art of the others. "To be honest, I don’t think they really care what I do." Added to this is the fairly lax treatment of copyright laws in the art business. These allow him to recycle the material of other artists at a relatively small risk. "I get more trouble from my sister and my mother if I use their photographs."

Whether it’s a case of an inverted bicycle as a double Ready-Made à la Duchamp or Andy Warhol’s face in the form of coffee grinds at the bottom of a cup – the game with references immanent to the art discourse occupies a large part of Monk’s creative activity. And despite this, you’d hardly notice that he’s a brainy meta-artist. Admittedly, he’s sometimes worn intellectual horn-rimmed glasses recently. But in most pictures he still looks like the typical English "lad": lanky, cropped hair, sneakers. He’s the type who’d rather go to a soccer game than to an opening. Added to this is his typical British humor, which is as dry as Gordon’s Gin with an olive.


Jonathan Monk, No. 88 (Tenerife), 1992,
Photo: Dave Morgan, Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London




Jonathan Monk, The collectors' leftovers, 2003,
Deutsche Bank Collection

"Do you have a favorite joke?" - "I’m not good at telling jokes. I always forget the punch line." - "I read an interview in which you told a joke." - "It was Sherrie Levine’s joke. Her art is all about re-photographing things, so I just re-told her joke." A person who even appropriates the jokes of other artists must certainly have an ambivalent relationship to a concept as old-fashioned as "originality." And yet Monk, along with his acts of duplication and repetition, which have always assumed their own artistic form, has created numerous works that are also original in the traditional sense: he painted slogans from the store-front windows of travel agencies in broad brush strokes for his series of Holiday paintings. Tenerife, 7 nights, self-catering is painted on one canvas, and the painting is offered for exactly the same price as the vacation package deal on sale.

His work The collectors’ leftovers , part of the Deutsche Bank Collection and currently on show at the Italian headquarters in Milan, also bears no direct reference to an artistic predecessor. Instead, it is based on the tradition of the "Objet trouvé." The work consists of a series of 70 vacation postcards that Monk found in Berlin’s flea markets. A section is cut out of the upper left-hand corner of each. "Why is the work called The collectors’ leftovers ?" - "I was playing with the idea of the collector. Stamp collectors will buy postcards and cut the stamps out. So these are the leftovers. And now Deutsche Bank has bought the leftovers from someone else’s collection."




Jonathan Monk, The collectors' leftovers (Detail), 2003,
Deutsche Bank Collection


"So you sold junk to Deutsche Bank?" - "They wanted what someone else didn’t want. That is how art functions. Some people don’t like it and some people do." You can admire his impudence, but don’t forget that it comes from a privileged position. To a certain extent, Monk is a fool who stands off to the side and comments on the activities in the art court with a wink of the eye. Judgments of his work mean little to him, because his works blossom in the wide field of art discourse and can always find their justification there. The fact that many of them aren’t only funny, but also aesthetically convincing is nice, of course – but not particularly necessary.

Given the success the artist enjoys with his appropriation strategies, it was inevitable that his work would also serve as raw material at some point. Last year, Ryan Gander, also a British artist and wearer of horn-rimmed glasses, purchased a work that Monk created for the Camden Arts Centre: it consists of a photograph of the artist as a young boy with a pair of earrings as eyes. Gander reworked the earrings in a piece of his own. "I didn’t mind a bit," Monk said. "I found it funny, and I even tried to buy the work."


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