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 three works that directly engage the Renzo Piano–designed building both formally and conceptually. Created specifically for the Art Institute, Light Me Black, an immense sculpture comprising 144 custom-made fluorescent lighting fixtures suspended from the ceiling, recalls the emphasis on light throughout the Modern Wing. In the now-iconic 1998 installation Plastered, re-created at the Art Institute, the entire gallery floor is constructed out of unfinished drywall panels that progressively crack and fragment as visitors move through the space. The third part of the exhibition consists of three glass panels depicting altered renderings of earlier sculptural projects by Bonvicini and invoking the building’s glass-curtain façade—replicated in a smaller scale in Gallery 182. The three discrete elements work together to acknowledge the aesthetic achievements of the building while hinting at its potential vulnerabilities.
This exhibition is supported by the Alfred L. McDougal and Nancy Lauter McDougal Fund for Contemporary Art.
Monica Bonvicini. Light Me Black, 2009. Installation view at the Art Institute of Chicago.