Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thus Shall You Think of This Fleeting World

Nuked Buddha (2011) by Matt Johnson

Blum & Poe are exhibiting six sculptures by Matt Johnson in a solo show. Known for his humor and quirky choice of materials, Johnson's work in this show feels a bit more subdued and introspective. Certainly, there is a light-heartedness that underlies the sculptures and the materials are as diverse as expected, but I feel that this is the most contemplative and profound display of Johnson's work that I've seen. There is a paradoxical sense of complex simplicity and expressive quiet to this show.

The easiest work to examine is the Nuked Buddha. It is a bronze statue, nine feet tall, which presents a warped and ruined surface to a traditional pose of serenity and transcendence. How does one view this image? Is it the triumph of the instant, in which a moment of violence defaces the beauty of human achievement? Or is it the exaltation of the enduring, wherein the serenity persists beyond the inessential results of the transient present?

This juxtaposition of the eternal and the ephemeral is also displayed in Touch the Void. Upon a granite boulder, Johnson has carved his handprint. It is not an obvious mark, but well integrated into the blended color and rugged surface of the rock. But despite the artful matching, the hand represents the fleeting presence of human life, which contrasts with the geologic ages of the stone. Yet, by carving his presence into the granite, this mark of mortality has gained lasting durability. Like early aniconic depictions of the Buddha as footprints, the handprint becomes a signifier of transcendence.

Detail of Touch the Void (2011) by Matt Johnson

But the reverse message is delivered in Pyramid of Dust, in which Johnson has created a four-sided pyramid of collected dust. This form is geometrically stable and associated with human structures noted for endurance. But it is crafted out of dust. It could crumble into a shapeless pile with a single jarring shake!

But this dialectic continues with Star in a Jar. If a granite boulder is considered a symbol of the Lasting, then stars are even more eternal. The "super-luminary" celestial objects are changeless and without end in classical imaginings. But the "star" in this sculpture is a glowing lightbulb in a Mason jar. Is this representative of an idea, a creative impulse, being caught and preserved? Is this the spark of enlightenment made commodified or controlled?

Star in a Jar (2011) by Matt Johnson

To be honest, this was a tough show for me to articulate. Even now, I'm worried that this post is too obscure or incoherent. Maybe I'm stretching at reading significance into the work. Maybe I'm stretching for meaning when it is a simple case of "what you see is what you see."

But I don't feel that is the situation. There seems to be too much implied thematic continuity between the pieces to just say "Oh, it's a lightbulb in a jar." There is a complexity underlying these simple forms.

In any case, I think this show is well worth a viewing. Experiencing the work in person will convey its presence better than ten million of my words. ;-)

Matt Johnson's solo show will be on exhibit at Blum & Poe until October 22, 2011.


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