Fabergé Meets Walk-in Closet Circa 1600: Jonathan Monaghan’s Virtual Meditation on Luxury

Born in the Rockaways, New York, and currently based in Washington, D.C., Jonathan Monaghan is something of a cultural collagist, synthesizing distinct aesthetics, sensibilities, and allusions—from art history and sci-fi culture to mythology and video games—into meticulously constructed virtual animations that explore the hypocrisy embedded in various societal power structures. A self-described gleaner, the artist gathers ideas for his hypnotic (though baffling) visual narratives from the world around him, and is particularly inspired by the collisions of eras and ethnicities that occur in encyclopedic museums. “From Gothic to the Romantic, the rich history of Western art will spark ideas for scenes, objects, or characters,” he writes in an Artist’s Notebook entry on Animal NY. “Sometimes in my sketchbook I’ll just jot down conflations of seemingly disparate things like ‘Technodrome Boutique Hotel,’ or ‘Luxury Operating Room.’” 

The Pavilion, Monaghan’s submission to Moving Image Istanbul, is no exception. The piece might have originated as a similarly enigmatic scribble: “Velour-padded Fertility Fabergé meets Private Bloomingdale’s Dressing Room Circa 1600,” for example. Set within the ordered sterility of some Wall Street trader’s clothing closet—or perhaps it’s a Dutch Modernist showroom, expertly lit, meticulously organized, and inexplicably crowned with a Baroque cupola—this three-minute film offers a formally breathtaking meditation on the interactions between creation and degradation, suggesting the venal and corrupting extravagance of wealth. It begins with a steady pan around the circular room, a visual voyage anchored by a round structure located dead center. Flat and gray, it evokes both the benches earmarked for masterpiece-viewing in the galleries of some museums, and the rain-collecting wells found in the atriums of ancient Roman households.

Suddenly and without warning, the form appears to hatch an elaborately upholstered, egg-shaped pod, which rises toward the ceiling. Wrapped in plush black velvet and studded with gems, the object suggests the extreme indulgence of art-market production values, calling to mind Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skulls, and, of course, the infamous Fabergé egg. But Monaghan has equipped his gorgeous object with a rather shocking appendage: a pair of visceral, flesh-colored lumps reminiscent of human testicles, which dangle from its underside as it rises toward the room’s oculus. There, irreverently framed by romantic, religious iconography, that round vault offers another scatological surprise: a sort of puckered saucer, all pink and pulsing, which evokes a human sphincter. Thus filtering his message through sharply seductive though ominous imagery, Monaghan effectively materializes the vulgar reality underlying the art world’s pristine surfaces, suggesting parallels with all matter of bodily orifices. 

—Emily Nathan

Visit Curator’s Office at Moving Image Istanbul, Sep. 25th- 28th.

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