Monica Bonvicini

Galleria Emi Fontana

A square in the form of a bed is not the same as a bed in the form of a square.

It is the first of these two possibilities that Monica Bonvicini has realized in BEDTIMESQUARE, 1999. The young artist (Venetian by birth but cosmopolitan by choice, dividing her time since 1986 between Berlin and Los Angeles) adopted as her standard of measurement that of a square piece by Carl Andre. She had a wooden structure built, a sort of square basin, covered on the outside by white ceramic tiles and on the inside with tiles made of an industrial composite. In the center, she placed a green air mattress. The whole thing was usable; that is, the public could interact with it, sitting, chatting, potentially even sleeping—making it a sort of real-life “conversation piece.”

There are obviously two basic elements to this work, closely bound to each other: the square and the bed. On the one hand, therefore, the idea, absolute abstraction, distilled form; on the other, an impression of the body, of organic qualities, of instinctual more than conscious life. A relationship is established between two extremes, and this relationship is the most interesting and vital aspect of Bonvicini’s work. She seeks to demystify the unbearable weight of the concept (in this case, of Minimalism) and to uncover the presence of form even in everyday life. To do this, Bonvicini brings many different constructive and visual devices into play. She uses tiles commonly found in household kitchens and bathrooms; the squares of compressed industrial composite are those used in gardens and terraces. The mattress is colorful, and the entire structure assumes an air of artisanal workmanship rather than aesthetic purity. This makes the piece inviting, available, rather than distant and perfect—with an easygoing approach to the ideas of art and form. Something similar happened in Bonvicini’s piece in the last Venice Biennale, but that work took a more aggressive stance toward pure form. There, an overtly rationalist architectural structure (whose title, I believe in the skin of things as in that of women, 1999, is a citation from Le Corbusier) was defaced by obscene words and pictures and its walls were bashed in, as if to say that pure form does not exist, that rationalism is a pipe dream.

That’s why I spoke of a square in the form of a bed and not a bed in the form of a square. The idea of purity and absolute form belongs to man’s intellect, not his senses, instincts, impulses. But why renounce those? And so the artist and her work become colloquial, familiar, “at hand,” in accordance with a vein of expression that, in any case, is currently enjoying a favorable moment. That’s why, in BEDTIMESQUARE, the square becomes a bed instead of the bed becoming a square: from form to life, not from life to form. All the same, there’s something irritating about Bonvicini’s need to allude to Minimalism—a sign that something remains unresolved in her work. It’s as if, once again, in order to gather strength and collect her own thoughts, she needed to single out an enemy and trample it underfoot. But that’s like biting the hand that feeds you.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.