View of “Jeanette Mundt and Ned Vena,” 2014.

View of “Jeanette Mundt and Ned Vena,” 2014.

Jeanette Mundt and Ned Vena

View of “Jeanette Mundt and Ned Vena,” 2014.

THEY WERE BOTH ABUSIVE TO THEMSELVES, AND HE HAD SPENT SO MUCH TIME TALKING ABOUT ACCESSIBLE WORK. AND THERE WAS THE ISSUE OF FAMILY, AS ARTISTS AND IF IT WAS POSSIBLE. These words appeared above the gallery window during the recent show in Milan by the New York–based artists Jeanette Mundt and Ned Vena. Although they share a life as a couple, the two do not normally work together and have significant and separate careers of their own, so there was undoubtedly some risk involved in this collaborative endeavor. Yet this exhibition seems to have been cathartic, an indelible experience that could open up considerable possibilities for both artists’ work. The words on the window were made of black vinyl adhesive letters, in the same typeface as that of the work by Ben Kinmont from which they were taken, obviously with his permission. The titanic volume Prospectus, 1988–2010: Forty-Two Works by Ben Kinmont (2011) was the point of departure for this confrontation. Mundt and Vena’s exhibition took the form of a sometimes sedate, sometimes convulsive and impassioned dialogue, based on Kinmont’s text, which they broke up into individual letters and recomposed in a new order, or disorder.

The activity of installing the show, too, became part of the discourse. For example, marks from the sneakers Vena wore during the construction of the exhibition became the subject of a series of charcoal rubbings installed all around the gallery’s main room in cheap frames that seemed to be made of brushed metal. In the middle of the room, Untitled, 2014, a sculpture created collaboratively by the two artists, resembled a bodybuilding bench or some kind of sex machine; it is, in any case, an apparatus that, in order to be used, forces the body into unusual postures. Made of steel and wood, it is covered in a plastic material that completely adheres to the structure—a rough, hard, and seemingly very resistant black surface.

As suggested by the text outside the gallery, Mundt and Vena, who were wed in February 2012, seem to have begun with a question: Is it possible for two artists to marry and have a family? What kind of relationship can be developed by a couple who are also artists? Both the sculpture and the rubbings on the walls seem to attest to an action that has already taken place, but which can be retraced; or they may instead signify a friction, a strong tension that becomes a wearing away or a continuous intense activity. The association of the black plastic with the wood or metal seems to have resulted in an ongoing acidic combination, a chemical formula that can never stabilize but continues to remain active and vibrant. Everything in the show was imbued with a pregnant, forceful sense of dialogue that never quite arrived at a resolution.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.