… The … monograph … envisions artists and artworks as points of excess and instability that cannot be squeezed into a totalizing frame of … art history.
This is from Art as Existence: The Artist’s Monograph and Its Project (2006) by Gabriele Guercio:
… The birth of public museums played a role in the formation of new ideas about the nature of artworks, yet it also had the effect of removing the art from its historical context and depriving it of its indigenous meanings and functions. In a museum, paintings and sculptures could be judged, not only as portraits, landscapes, or historical subjects, but also as they seemed to reveal art itself, as “absolute masterpieces” belonging to history and to the history of art and yet capable of transcending time. These perceptions of the past affected the practice of contemporary art as well, fostering among artists the dream (or myth) of an absolute art as well as the compulsive attempts to achieve the impossible: works that would finally materialize the idea of art itself.
… In place of the museum’s privileging of skillful achievements and visions of masterpieces alone, the monograph presented a complex web of data that illuminated the artworks’ capacity to signify human subjectivity, materialize the dynamic flux of life, seek cultural fluency in the world, and expose the stylistic, thematic, and emotional qualities of authorship.
… Though he focused on the particularity of each master, Vasari was eager to show a uniform course of history, a genealogy interconnecting the deeds of the artefici from Giovanni Cimabue and Giotto to Michelangelo and after. The writers of the monograph increasingly explored the discrete, irreducible aspects of oneness of an artist’s works. Viewed in retrospect, their books question, if they don’t actually undermine, the faith in the chronological reconstruction of broad artistic contexts and traditions. The nineteenth-century monograph, that is, envisions artists and artworks as points of excess and instability that cannot be squeezed into a totalizing frame of history and art history.
… as issues of identity and “someoneness” became crucial or even overcame other kinds of preoccupations, the monograph deepened its focus on the thin divide between life and work. It looked for places where the biographical and artistic realms could be reunited. The artwork stopped appearing as a means of representation — the duplicate of a world out there or the mirror of a subject’s preexisting creation — to reveal its potential as the vessel of life and the site of presence coming to being and disseminating itself into the world.
… A monograph could praise the artist, disclose unpublished documents, merge stylistic and historical analyses, or produce a catalogue raisonné of the oeuvre. But it could also perceive forms as materializations of a self, connect visual elements and lived experience, or understand art, culture, and history in absolutely biographical terms.
… The polymorphous character of the life-and-work model and its methodological anarchism, and even the lack of expertise of some of its practitioners, helped shape the monograph’s destiny. From the early nineteenth century, the monograph became a sui generis genre that could internalize and improve as much as question and defy a series of more or less dominant views of the visual arts.