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Exhibit Shows Art Fueled by Fear of the Future

A horseman from "Out of the Abyss" in Jonathan Monaghan's exhibit.
A horseman rides through the pink-hued future in a still from Jonathan Monaghan's "Out of the Abyss."

By David Perry

Yuko Oda was Jonathan Monaghan’s professor at New York Institute of Technology from 2007 to 2008, overseeing his Senior Project I and II courses. They stayed in touch and even exhibited in a group show together in China at the Beijing Today Museum. 

Oda, who joined UML’s Art & Design faculty in 2017, teaches 3D/Expanded Media. And Monaghan is now a Washington, D.C.-based artist whose work paints a portrait of an increasingly angst-filled, technologically driven future.
“I really think it’s beneficial to invite different people to show their work and speak to students,” says Oda. “With Jonathan, I wanted students to see that animation does not have to be another commercial medium, but it can also be something that’s fine art or studio art.”

Monaghan’s exhibit at the University Gallery is on South Campus through Nov. 21. It includes sculpture, print, installation work and, perhaps most striking, video work. 

His work is his vision of “anxiety about the future,” he told a lecture hall of students and faculty in Weed Hall recently. Under bubblegum pink skies, four helmeted, gas mask-wearing horsemen gallop atop security camera-laden horses. The horsemen tote paper bags with logos resembling  that of Whole Foods Market. It’s part of “Out of the Abyss,” a 19-minute video installation.

Jonathan Monaghan discusses his work at a recent presentation. His exhibit runs through Nov. 21 at University Gallery.
Jonathan Monaghan discusses his work at a recent presentation. His exhibit runs through Nov. 21 at University Gallery.
Another short film shows a polar bear dying slowly. As the camera moves in on the illustration, Coca-Cola logos appear on the bear’s face.

“It’s a memorial in a way,” Monaghan said. The work was sparked by the soda company’s iconic  animation ads depicting polar bears slugging down soda. Monaghan combines “the natural and artificial” by showing polar bears dying from a more recent photographic setting – the effects of climate change. 

The “ghostly image” of the bear is meant to “wake you up and examine the world around us,” said Monaghan.

He put the work in context, showing other artists’ recontextualization of logos, including Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s soup can.

Devoid of humans and rife with spoofs of corporate branding, Monaghan calls his apocalyptic vision “psychologically driven imagery.” He has exhibited at the Sundance Film Festival, the Walters Museum of Art and the Palais de Tokyo. 
“It’s important to show students a variety of things,” says Oda. “We should be bringing them fresh new ideas from other areas, too. … I think the way he brought historical context to his work, Jonathan showed the students how to look at things – including art history – in a new way.”

“I think there’s a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about where we’re headed in the future,” Monaghan told the students during his lecture. “And I think art has a way of helping us come to grips with that.”