‘The experience of life in a finite, limited body is specifically for the purpose of discovering and manifesting supernatural, infinite existence within the finite.’ Pythagoras
For his first solo exhibition in Europe, LA-based artist Matt Johnson will present four major new sculptures, each utilising and departing from the canons of figurative representation – the head, the bust, and the reclining figure. Riffing on the gamut of sculptural styles, from primitivism to romanticism, abstraction to postmodernism and realism, the exhibition reveals a subtly spiritual yet contemplatively humorous attitude, which suffuses Johnson’s practice and offers both a celebration and interrogation of the history of art, and the space between our terrestrial surroundings and their attachments to a larger metaphysical structure.
Johnson’s characteristically wry eye for ironic marriages of physical matter and subject material is immediately manifested in the assembled works. Odalisque for instance assumes the aspect of a larger-than-life reclining figure that on first encounter appears to be made from modelling clay, suggesting a monumental study for an even more momentous sculpture. In a typically deft sleight of hand, however, the sculpture is no rough draft but is indeed the finished article, created in bronze. With Grotesque at Prayer, surface appearance again belies material reality, as the original foil model for the meteoric bust, seemingly lightweight and disposable, has been realised in sculpture as stainless steel. Beekeeper partially achieves its sense of narrative potential through the contrast of sandstone and bronze, the primal head carved from elemental stone capped, seemingly insensibly, with metallic bees, while American Spirit, the final work in the exhibition, turns the traditional weighty concerns of sculptors on their heads, with an investigation into what meaning weightlessness can carry.
The exhibition offers insights not only into the artist’s coolly irreverent attitude to the stuff of object making, but also presents narrative suggestions that range across both the historical and fantastical possibilities of sculpture. Odalisque – the title of which refers to the female slave attendants of the Ottoman Imperial Harem and one of the emblematic tropes of erotic and mysterious constructions of the Orient in the nineteenth century – is a fleshy, robust figure, one which alludes provocatively and ambiguously to the uses to which the figurative sculpture has been put in its history. Grotesque at Prayer, despite its titular reference to devotional traditions of art and the representational allusion to a shrouded face fixed in a devotional gesture, seems also somewhat extra-terrestrial in its jagged angularity, as evocative of something alien as it is suggestive of the Almighty. The solid monolithic authority of the Beekeeper is playfully complicated by the colony of bees whose collective presence is as imposing as the individual head on which they rest. American Spirit represents something of a departure from the iconic figurative works assembled in the main exhibition, offering as it does an object pointing towards an allusive more transcendental meaning of humanness. It shares with the other sculptures however a certain sardonic sensibility, as the packet of cigarettes floats and spins, hypnotically at the end of the transept-like space, inviting questions about the spirit, awe, and the awesome.
Matt Johnson was born in New York in 1978, and trained in the New York Studio Program, NY, Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD, and the University of California Los Angeles, CA. Solo presentations include an exhibition at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CA (2006); and Super System at Taxter & Spengemann, New York, NY (2009). Key groups shows include Thing: New Sculptures from Los Angeles at The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2005); Uncertain States of America – American Art in the 3rd Millennium, at Astrup Fearnley, Oslo, Norway (2005; travelled to Bard College, New York, NY; Serpentine Gallery, London, UK; Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland; Herning Art Museum, Herning, Denmark; CCA Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland; Le Musée de Sérignan, Sérignan, France; Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic; Songzhuan Art Center, Beijing, China); and Abstract America at The Saatchi Gallery, London, UK (2008). Matt Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.