New York

Jonathan Monk

Jeff Koons’s Rabbit, 1986, an immaculate stainless-steel cast of a silver balloon in the form of a stylized bunny, has become an icon of a decade notorious for hyperbole and narcissism. (Not without reason did its perky ears protrude over Artforum’s logo in the first of the special issues the magazine devoted to the 1980s in 2003.) So it would be easy to see an allegory in “The Inflated Deflated,” for which British artist Jonathan Monk took a pin to this pumped-up, mirror-finish homage to the 1980s, reproducing it in a set of flaccid simulacra.

Monk has made a career out of appropriating material from contemporary—most often Conceptual—artists, having remixed the work of luminaries from John Baldessari to Lawrence Weiner, Chris Burden to Ed Ruscha. (Naturally, he’s also taken on Marcel Duchamp, holding up a sign with the artist’s name on it at an airport in his 1995 series “Waiting for Famous People.”) In turning his attention to Koons, an ’80s star with a unique career trajectory whose images have come closer to mainstream popularity than any blue-chip artist’s since Warhol, Monk has picked a more resonant target than before, but continues to pursue his established strategy with an efficiency that borders on the mechanical.

Deflated Sculpture no. I (all works 2009) stood on a waist-high white maple pedestal in front of the gallery’s reception desk. The first in a five-part sequence, it depicts Rabbit as if still almost filled with air, ears and carrot drooping but figure remaining upright. In the four subsequent incarnations, it wilts gradually into a recumbent mound of metal, its formerly taut skin now deeply wrinkled, though still highly polished. The visual effect is gratifying and perfectly executed, but does Monk’s idea measure up? Whether you love or loathe Rabbit or its creator—or merely the period in which their reputations were made—Koons’s sculpture retains an aura and mystery that feels almost spiritual, fully transcending its source. By contrast, the impact of the “Deflated Sculptures” depends on viewers holding tight to the work’s origin, and to its art-historical and art-market associations.

If it’s hard not to feel a little, well, deflated by this apparent—albeit Theoretically Correct—curtailment of possibility, five accompanying paintings at least lend the project some additional color. Depicting scenes from the manufacture of his sculptures in a Photorealist style, Monk retraces his steps to remind us of the real importance of process to even the most hands-off practitioners, while additionally, perhaps, offering a wry comment on Koons’s own belated embrace of painting. It’s in the variety and apparent candor that these modest canvases present—Painted Production Still no. I, for example, implies that the balloon on which Rabbit is based was in fact bright blue—that Monk’s self-consciously irreverent remix begins to assume a life of its own.

Finally, in the rear gallery, an elegant
 afterthought: Four large mirrors, their
 frames studded with white light bulbs, 
occupied one long wall. Each is a different 
shape—there’s a circle, a rectangle, a triangle, and a square—but all lend the viewer’s
 face the same glow, at least for now.
 Monk’s plan is to let the bulbs burn out 
one by one until each piece goes entirely 
dark. The source here is less obvious than in 
the “Deflated Sculptures” (though one certainly thinks of Sol LeWitt), but that ambiguity only enhances the work. It’s a gesture that, while it might lean on other artists’ achievements, also stands alone.

Michael Wilson