Matt Johnson’s Wood Sculpture – wow. Walking into the show I was immediately reminded of Duchamp and the Readymade – the sculptures appeared to be prefabricated, everyday objects, elevated to the dignity of artwork merely by Johnson’s decision to remove the objects from their former fixed context and display them in a gallery setting. These objects were suspended in states of uselessness and defection – crumpled, dented, fragmented – as if they were depressed by their loss of utility. Unwanted remnants of waste and junk were now raised on a pedestal, gracefully balanced and poised, sometimes twisted and curved, as if emulating a human form in contrapposto. Was Johnson finding beauty in the mundane, in the expendable, in trash –piecing together discarded, broken refuse to create a newfound context? Then I realized every sculpture was carved out of wood. Then these commonplace objects became incredible. Funny how that happens – a sudden detachment, aloofness or isolation from the ordinary and expected (or mass produced) makes something ten times cooler. The objects became individuals. The dynamism and fluidity and stasis of each piece was now even more impressive; these sculptures weren’t yielding like plastic or cardboard, but were solid, firm wood. Yet, knowing they were carefully carved sculptures made them seem even more fragile and delicate than brittle Styrofoam or drywall. Although the show was very straightforward, frank and bare, including the titles of the pieces and exhibit, once realizing that Johnson underwent the painstaking, laborious process of studying every object and replicating them so exactly that the distinction between genuine and copy (art and life?) is blurred, makes the exhibit elaborate and ambitious. And humorous. All that work, to create an El Pollo Loco cup, a shard of drywall, a pizza box. Something so temporary and disposable and cheap, now permanent and upscale. The wrinkles on the bags of concrete, the indented rings on the roll of tape, the Styrofoam pellets, every corrugate on the cardboard – so over the top and ridiculous, but because the exhibit was only called Wood Sculpture, I thought it was okay.
Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images – Ceci n’est pas une pipe came to mind. Is it a bag of concrete, or a representation of a bag of concrete? Vija Celmins’ To Fix the Image in Memory as well. The juxtaposition between model and depiction, nature and artifice. Exact imitations indistinguishable from the original, making the viewer uncertain, unsure, hesitant.
I also loved the drywall titles. Including the name of the paint color heightened the witticism of the show. The drywall sculptures also reminded me of Franz West’s sculptures – pastel colored, patchy, oddly shaped.
Matt Johnson is an allegorist. His work is appropriated imagery. He lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter. The image transforms and becomes something else. He does not restore an original meaning that may have been lost or obscured; rather, he adds another meaning to the image. Pretty cool.