Jonathan Monk is reliably funny; as this show at Casey Kaplan exemplifies, though, he’s not always reliably good. Entering the gallery, the first few walls bear early Polaroids of hotel exteriors, coupled with painfully melodramatic narratives – “TOMORROW THEY GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS FOR THE FINAL TIME” – that Monk has imposed upon the figures within. While they hit a certain pop sadness with remarkable accuracy, I can’t like them without feeling dumb.
His “Rew-Shay Hood Project”, which makes up the bulk of the work on view, consists of a series of hoods from 70s muscle cars, professionally airbrushed with Ed Ruscha gas stations. They elicit a chuckle, but nothing else; like the rest of his series of canonical addenda, they require something more than just a canny reference to function, and that’s not in evidence here. A series of marble headstones are perhaps the best works; sitting on the floor of the gallery, they offer “Your Name Here”, acting as equal parts momento mori and advertisement. Though there’s not much to chew on there, the idea of a direct exchange of money for rememberance is a tasty one.
The essential problem with this exhibition is that the work feels too “safe”—the generative logic behind each piece is sound, but as I follow Monk’s thoughts around the gallery there’s little that surprises me. Much of the joy of art is being taken along on wild leaps of reason, and finding yourself surprised when you land in one piece. With this show, we never leave the ground.