July 29, 2005
Like entering a Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities, the viewer of Matthew Monahan’s new exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery will be engulfed by a multitude of displays containing a variety of wax figures, paper sculptures, ornamental drawings, and other artifacts. The work was made in the last two years, though some elements go as far back as 1994, during and after travels through Japan, Tibet, China, and Europe.
Monahan set out to excavate the ruins of his own work, to preserve and reanimate many creative fragments, all bizarrely reconfigured in pseudo-museological displays that take on a narrative and allegorical dimension. Unpainted drywall and glass vitrines stage this post-industrial, apocalyptic curiosity cabinet. A deranged arrangement of reliquaries and cracked monuments produces an effect of historical and cultural confusion, where voodoo, classicism, Buddha and modernism collide.
Monahan comments that:
the work is not a postmodern selection of references to be decoded, but a bodily expulsion of influence and impulse performed in the act of making. Art history and private history are simultaneous, in the movement of my hands... a cycle of making, breaking and fixing. It is another attempt to escape the uncanny frontality and horror of the figurative, its pathetic desire to act in real space and to look back at you. The figures are most shocking or charming when they become characters. Matchstick pupils (phosphorous vision) - materials take on a magic function, the character is fortified and abused by substances, smothered in gold, pierced by sticks, trapped in glass, ... devices to exceed the limits of the body. A brutal materiality edging towards spirituality.