top of page

CHICAGO Sun-Times Thursday January 16, 1986

Clar Monaco strips sexuality to its bones


By Sue Taylor


If the Freudian symbolism is obvious in Clar Monaco's multimedia exhibition, so too is the range of the artist's creativity.


"The Bone Show," on view through Feb. 8 at ZoIle/Lieberman Gallery, 356. W. Huron, 'includes oil paintings, a neon sculpture and an audio tape of Monaco performing his own upbeat "Bone Song," moving from electric guitar to keyboard synthesizer and electronic drums. He follows the song with a segment of "Bone Talk" in which he defines his chosen motif as "any of the separate parts of the hard tissue forming the skeleton of most full-grown vertebrate animals." But it's not really anatomy that interests Monaco; it's sexuality. And the bone, of course, is symbolic of the male.

He introduced the image several years ago in paintings of sinister-looking canines that traveled in packs; the dog bones and dog-food bowls in those pictures soon became subjects in their own right. The earliest works in this exhibition, "Bones and Bowls #1" and "Ritual Circle" (both 1982), comment on the attraction of male to female. In each case, neatly arranged bones surround two or three red bowls set against putty-colored backgrounds.  In subsequent paintings, the backgrounds begin to glow a brilliant red; the bones multiply, become animated, and take on surprising colors—brown, blue, pink and yellow, They're alive, disposed across the canvas like a school of fish in "Flying Bones" or congregating toward an empty dish in the rather heavy-handed allegory titled "In Pursuit of a Noble Bowl."


An explosion of scale accompanies the proliferation of motifs: The showpiece of the exhibition, "Black and Blue," measures 8 feet by 10 feet and consists of hundreds of bones outlined in two shades of pale blue against a black velvet ground. The effect is stunning and, well ... beautiful. Overhead, three bone shapes defined in blue neon tubing soar as if liberated from the confines of the. painting in ecstatic flight.


There's a certain innocence in this joyous celebration of male sexuality. The exuberance with which Monaco approaches his subject makes an intriguing contrast, for example, to the more cautious investigations of Mary Lou Zelazny. Her recent exhibition of collage-paintings at Peter Miller Gallery included a series titled "Mysteries of the Male." Zelazny's sensuous studies of male torsos are pasted over with photographic images that take into account more threatening aspects of phallic pride, incorporating emblems of aggression-such as a hand aiming a pistol, a football hero about to be tackled by an opponent, and Nazi soldiers on the march.


Monaco's view is less problematic, more spirited and whole heartedly positive. For him, male sexuality is a vital force, a universal search for completion, a source of pleasure and creation. 


"The Bone Show" is a witty and gorgeous affirmation of life itself, in which the phallus, in glowing neon, becomes a lofty illuminating principle.


© Clar Monaco 1977-2016 / All rights reserved.

bottom of page