Matthew Day Jackson: Something Ancient, Something New, Something Stolen, Something Blue
Hauser & Wirth, New York, 18th Street
September 6 - October 19, 2013
By Dan Tarnowski
Something Ancient, Something New, Something Stolen, Something Blue is a sleek head-scratcher of an exhibition. Matthew Day Jackson’s large-scale mixed media pieces are impactful and well crafted. The collection of well-executed work, spread out in a spacious gallery, takes on the feel of a show-room of sexily-designed cars.
While this artwork bears the authoritative craftsmanship of a motor vehicle, or of antique furniture, its subject matter belies a macabre, human element in addition to a minimal, abstract one. These nods in two historical directions: renaissance painting and abstract expressionism, are the crux of ‘Something Ancient...’ on both the macro and micro level.
On the macro level, the exhibition throws contrasting styles—representing different time periods and ideologies—beside one another; for instance, Enshrouded Paris (2013), a non-representational piece relying mostly on color and texture is displayed in the same collection as Inside/Outside, a half-figurative, half-abstract painting. Enshrouded Paris features an expansive blue background (suggestive of the “something blue” the exhibition title refers to) composed of a mixed-media texture (plastic, carbon fiber, steel). Criss-crossed scratches and triangles in the texture of the painting could evoke any number of references; the complex arteries of roads on a satellite map, perhaps, or the ornately futuristic designs on the surfaces of spaceships in sci-fi films. Contrasted with the industrial, design-oriented spirit of Enshrouded Paris, Inside/Outside (2013) features a human presence: a man expressing ravish or despair in the histrionic tradition of renaissance painting.
On the exhibition’s micro level, individual pieces in Something Ancient... juxtapose past and present in one canvas. The emotive man depicted in Inside/Outside, for instance, looks as if he has been chopped in half at an awkward angle. Inside his cross-sectioned torso is not blood and guts, but more of the textural stuff of Enshrouded Paris: a black valley of empty space, composed of scorched wood, yarn, and lead, through which gray representations of veins, nerves, and muscles snake. The burnt-out depiction of anatomy gives the piece a blunted, veiled, and tragic feeling, rather than the cathartic, pained feeling that realistic red guts would evoke. The symbolism of this charred imagery is open-ended, but a reflection of our modern times seems to be ingrained in this burned-out mixture of human flesh and industrial building materials.
Different viewers will discover different sticks or bones to gnaw on in Matthew Day Jackson’s oddly seductive imagery. Something Ancient..., it seems, is not so much a clear statement as it is a veritable Petri dish of references to ancient and recent history. Mirrored with the cerebral exercise of viewing Something Ancient… is the sensual proposal of the artist’s well-crafted work.
Dan Tarnowski is a writer and artist in Brooklyn. He runs the small publisher On Lives Press and is currently working on a collection of short fiction.view all articles from this author