Meant to activate the poetic, political and performative registers of the monochrome, Never Underestimate a Monochrome (2012) is a conceptual project conceived and organized by Mariángeles Soto-Díaz in a collaborative partnership with the University of Iowa Museum of Art. Artists from different parts of the world interpreted instructions written by Soto-Díaz, and provided documentation of their monochrome performance for a digital archival space, bringing the textual, embodied and mediated aspects of the monochrome into dialogue. The collective event ocurred over the summer of 2012 across the globe, defying the logic of the event as necessarily bound to a singular physical and temporal space.
Without heroic gestures but always paradoxical: the monochrome has been accused of being threatening, and not threatening enough—joke and elegy of modernism. In its most radical gesture, the monochrome asks the questions pertaining not just to the material constitution of painting, but to the territory of its limits, potentially dematerializing the notion of painting altogether. It is as if the monochrome insists on asking: Is this enough to constitute a painting?
It is as if the monochrome insists on asking: Is this enough to constitute a painting? It is the monochrome’s dual physical and textual presence that tests the commitment of looking. Always energized through its cyclic return, the monochrome performs as alternately easy, impenetrable, fake, mute, sublime, honest, and even boring in its simplicity. It is perhaps this performative versatility that has allowed the monochrome to be able (and willing) to return.
In Never Underestimate a Monochrome, I create a role for the monochrome’s resourceful disposition by setting up performative functions designed to connect the artists. The monochrome, here a material manifestation of instructions, is also a connecting node for each of the participants. The instructions allow artists to focus on the gesture of connection folded into the making process. Convening these works together reveals discrepancies and parallels between artists’ interpretations of the instructions, which from the start embrace the promise of a connective thread between monochrome works, artists, past and future.