Man, Land, and Stuff: Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth

Against my better judgement, I put off seeing Matthew Day Jackson’s show, Something Ancient, Something New, Something Stolen, Something Blue at Hauser & Wirth until this week. Little did I know the show would take an infamous amount of heat from critics and art-goers alike. The New Yorker called it a “very big show of very bad art,” art critic Jerry Saltz recently dubbed it “dolefully atrocious,” and Hyperallergic deemed it “a confused medley of disconnected work.” The list goes on and on.

Jackson’s show is the intersection of anatomy, matter, and material — in other words, man, land, and stuff. Many of his works contain multiple layers of meanings and influences, from the historical to cosmic. The exhibition is located in Chelsea at Hauser & Wirth’s second New York location (formerly the Roxy), which opened in January. It’s worth the trip if only to see the huge space prefaced by a long corridor of stairs with candy striper-esque colored walls. It makes the work that much more dramatic. It all begins with “VICTA,” the car looming above you on mechanic’s stilts. The custom car, which runs, is designed by Jackson’s deceased uncle, Jim Nichols, and built by his cousin Skip Nichols. It’s the very symbol of materialism hovering over you.

"Scholar Stone" by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth

“Scholar’s Stone” by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth, New York

One of three of Jackson’s sculptures greets you in the first room. “Scholar’s Stone” is a combination of technicality and mysticism. Jackson uses a crafty process that involves digital art taken with a smartphone which he then prints and then somehow creates a casting of a sculpture. The work is an allusion to Chinese scholar’s rocks, which have been used in Chinese culture for ornamental, meditative, and spiritual purposes for centuries. The composition is also meant to mimic moon ash. In fact, many of his paintings share the same depth and texture of “Scholar’s Stone.”

Detail of "Enshrouded Paris" by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth.

Detail of “Enshrouded Paris” by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth, New York

Various aspects of Jackson’s work are technically sound. His large-scale paintings easily could have been a show unto themselves. They all share a texture that resembles the lunar surface, except two of them are literal replicas of both Paris, “Enshrouded Paris,” and San Francisco, “August 6th, 1945.” Both paintings have a dark twist in that they represent their landscapes in the aftermath of an atomic bomb. Taking up four walls in their own space, they balance Jackson’s rendition of “Pieta.” It’s somewhat of a found art object, as the cement sculpture contains various materials found in New York City. “Magnificent Desolation” is the third sculpture that takes center stage, and it’s a mash-up of Rodin’s “Les Bourgeois de Calais” and astronauts landing on the moon.

Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth.

Matthew Day Jackson’s skeletal sculptures at Hauser & Wirth.

He must have a bit of a flair for the dramatic. As soon as you walk into the space full of light and a large-scale painting of Yosemite Valley, an alcove to the left lures you in. Five sculptures stand in a row of mirrored boxes, depicting various systems of the human body, from the skeleton to “Bartholomew” — a silicon sculpture depicting human skin and hair. The dimly lit room intensifies the eerie green glow. There’s a clear theme of decomposition; peeling back the layers. “Helmet #3,” a portrait hanging adjacent to the work, is nearly hidden in the dark. It contains dramatic layers of skulls and faces. It’s both sickly and humourous.

Detail of "Skeleton" by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth, New York

Detail of “Skeleton” by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth, New York

Part of the problem is that the show was jam-packed with work and concepts; there’s too much to take in. “We, Us, and Them,” for example, made with an aluminum frame and prisms, and operated by a motor console, consists of panels which rotate every five minutes, revealing three sides: mirrored plexiglass reflecting the viewer and the entire space behind them, a print of Yosemite National Park, and carved plastic replicating lunar craters. To be clear, it takes fifteen minutes to get the full experience of this installation, and that might be part of the problem. It’s part painting, art installation, photography, interactive art, and probably a lot of other forms that I haven’t even considered. Several of the pieces are that complicated, largely combining topographical paintings, lunar-inspired historical sculptures, and creepy anatomical science.

Can I say that I enjoyed the show? That I left feeling entertained? Is it kitschy? I’d say so. But does that diminish the work’s obvious technical merit and creativity? I’d say no. Such a visceral response to a show only serves to polarize the masses. Similarly, you either love Jackson’s show or you hate it.

Matthew Day Jackson, Something Ancient, Something New, Something Stolen, Something Blue at Hauser & Wirth, New York. September 6 – October 19, 2013

Discussion Un commento

Leave a Reply

by Kuoure Thomas
in Focus on the American East

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory