artist / participant
Equal parts beautiful and menacing, Monica Bonvicini’s sculptures, installations, videos, and drawings provoke an acute awareness of the physical and psychological effects of institutional, particularly museum, architecture. Favoring industrial materials that reference the modernist canon, such as metal and glass, often combined with the trappings of sexual fetishism—leather, chains, and rubber—Bonvicini confronts the power structures and contradictions inherent in built environments. Text quoted from a variety of sources, including literature, psychoanalytic theory, popular music, and architects’ own words, adds yet another layer to her wry commentary. More than any other artist working today, her projects aim to expose the disparity between the sexy, utopian, and avant-gardist claims of certain—largely male—“starchitects” and the realities of the spaces they create.
The first Focus exhibition in the museum’s new Modern Wing, Bonvicini’s project brings together two sculptures that directly engage the Renzo Piano–designed building both formally and conceptually. The 1998 work Plastered is an early, iconic installation in which the entire gallery floor is constructed out of unfinished drywall panels that progressively crack and fragment over the course of the exhibition as visitors move through the space. The pristine modernist surface, evoking the signature white plaster walls of the Piano building, is brought down to the floor, where it is repeatedly compromised and ultimately destroyed. A second sculptural installation, created specifically for the Art Institute out of glass panels recovered from the Vienna Secession building and fluorescent lighting, reflects the transparency of the Modern Wing’s expansive glass curtain wall and the emphasis on light throughout the galleries. The sculptures work together to acknowledge the aesthetic achievements of the building while hinting at its potential vulnerabilities.
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Focus: Monica Bonvicini