Free School for Art Theory and Practice

The Art of the Monologue. Seminar with Chus Martínez and Dora García


Institutions, institutional critique and the public. Chus Martínez and Dora García Interviewed by Ágnes Szanyi

 December 12–14, 2007. Feszty-Studio of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, Budapest

 The expansion of culture as a new form of the entertainment industry has transformed the space in which artists but also curators operate. If you operate ignoring the parameters of cultural politics, you risk looking like the family-run shop next door to the supermarket. It is pointless to compete for the same social ground as the supermarket. Clearly we need a different space, a new cultural ecology. At the same time we are so focused in protecting our corner that few energies are left to start this grand exploit. That is why we are proposing to look at a master of the stand-up comedy business. When performed night after night, a monologue can affect the unaccustomed ear. Lenny Bruce, the Jesus Christ of stand-up comedy—who suffered persecution from 1961 until his death in 1966 because of the defiant, daring, and truthful (obscene to his enemies) character of his uncompromising texts, his absolute refusal to accommodate to political correctness or convention or decorum, and because of his reciprocal empathy with the most radical ’60s counterculture—is presented as a case study for the complex relationship between artist and audience.

The stand-up artist who started his monologues in the ’60s with sentences such as, “I am going to piss on you” (receiving cheers and roaring applause from his audience in response), or “I am going to forbid entrance to my shows to anyone younger than twenty or older than forty,” or indeed, “I cannot speak to an audience older than sixty. To anyone older than sixty, the only thing I can think of saying is, ‘No, thank you, I have already eaten’,” or—and this is the last quote—“I know they have placed an undercover Jewish cop in the audience to find out if I am obscene when I speak Yiddish.” This stand-up artist is a model, as we said earlier, of the complexities of the feedback between artist and target group.

The fracture between the institution (in the form of censorship, government, newspapers, police), the artist (Lenny), and the audience (clearly divided between the loyal, the unbeliever, and the outraged), can be easily translated into today’s institutional critique landscape. The idea is to do so while commenting on some of the most revealing and witty pieces of Lenny’s monologues.


Chus Martínez is a curator and  critic, Head of the Institute of Art at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design. By the time the seminar was held in Budapest she was the director of Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Dora García is a Brussels-based artist working with a variety of media, ranging from video and film to performance.