Marlborough is pleased to present Garden, an exhibition of new sculpture by Tony Matelli in both our Chelsea and Lower East Side locations. Comprising several distinct but interrelated bodies of work, the exhibition builds on the artist’s iconoclastic thematic and conceptual modes, as well as expanding his repertoire of material treatments. The astonishing craftsmanship required in producing Matelli’s hyper-realistic sculpture is met with an equally potent narrative cocktail of existential dread, a fatalistic sense of human limitations, and a contrarian’s dark humor.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a pair of inverted human figures in painted cast silicone. While the sculptures are inescapably evocative of Adam and Eve, the duo is clearly contemporary and the artist intends them as a more generic couple. Still, the piece reminds us that the expulsion from Paradise is a perpetual and universal state, and points to the persistent romantic pessimism that is a prominent strain of the artist’s oeuvre. The inversion of the figures (as with Matelli’s well-known flipped flower arrangements) acts as a kind of emotional distress signal—like a flag flown upside down under siege.
Also in this room is a complex rope sculpture made from pliant, fleshy silicone in an arresting shade of day-glo green and with a twisting spine of stainless steel. This beautifully engineered drawing in space appears to levitate, and lends a certain logic to the upended figures nearby—both in physical attitude and as a surrogate Edenic serpent.
In the adjacent gallery, Matelli presents a series of works in sandblasted concrete and painted cast bronze. In effect, these are assisted readymades: commercially produced garden statuary that has been scoured and defaced with the sandblaster, disfiguring the smooth surface of the original and exposing the raw, aggregate-choked interior. Atop these deformed classical and religious icons, the artist has placed cast bronze renditions of perishable food items like sausage, shrimp and raspberries.
The surrealistic incongruity of the eternally ripe produce is contrasted with the hyper-decayed concrete, simultaneously accelerating and arresting time and melding elements of the sacred and profane.
Hanging nearby is a pair of the artist’s signature dusty mirror works that appear to be marked in smears, scrawls and crude pictograms by the fingers of passerby. These objects, painstakingly crafted in layers of tinted urethane, are designed to complicate reflection and subvert subjective clarity. They play off the freewheeling ethos of expressionist painting and capture the ephemeral offhand gestures for eternity.
At Marlborough's Lower East Side location, Matelli presents a group of four painted bronze Window sculptures which are lifelike casts of residential and industrial windowpanes, along with the accompanying detritus of daily life (a coffee cup on the sill, a sock or some Christmas lights wedged in a crack). In some cases the windows are smashed, revealing chance compositions of angular forms. In the artist’s words, the sculptures form “depressive vistas” and block our view rather than framing it. While reminiscent of Nevelson or Serra, these works distinguish themselves as portrait-like, formal monuments both violent and mundane.