Spring Guide 2012: No Vomiting Boy Scouts This Time from Tony Matelli

The dirty mirror man

Tony Matelli apologizes loudly for the clanging hammers and whining grinders in his Greenpoint studio. A melodic drone by '60s minimalist pioneer Tony Conrad adds to the din, and Matelli calls out, "Hey, Max—can you turn that down a bit?"

One of four assistants bustling amid bronze flowers, blocks of marble, and other chunks of sculpture-in-progress steps out of a makeshift spray booth and lowers the volume on the sound system. Matelli and I resume our discussion about a 2005 New Yorker profile of his Chelsea dealer, Leo Koenig, which recalled how the gallery's stable of young artists spent as much time carousing as making art. "It was in the partying days," says the now-40-year-old Matelli, laughing. "Things just got amped up."

We're looking at a catalog photo of Fucked (Couple), a realistic 2006 sculpture of young lovers in their underwear. Her head is smashed, he's crowned with the shattered shards of an actual piano, and both are skewered by various swords, knives, gardening tools, and the odd brick. Still, they trudge forward, holding hands, an undead Adam and Eve.

"Pretty Looney Tunes. Pretty slapstick," Matelli chuckles, but then adds seriously: "This is a piece about perseverance, the power of romantic love, let's say. I always thought that when you wanted to represent the power of one thing, you needed to represent its opposite force, dramatically."

Such over-the-top contrasts might indeed call to mind a Road Runner cartoon, but where Wile E. Coyote accordions back to health after a Steinway grand crashes down from the heavens, the disturbingly lifelike denizens of Matelli's world have to soldier on with their mortal wounds intact. Even self-portraits are not immune to grotesquerie: In 2003's Total Torpor, Mad Malaise, a nude Matelli fabricated from silicone reclines in a pose recalling Jeff Koons's famous porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson cradling Bubbles the chimp. Huge, festering tumors erupt all over Matelli's doppelgänger, and a Victoria's Secret catalog lies close at hand. Was Matelli's self-absorbed self-abuser a rebuke to the extravagant consumption celebrated by Koons's exquisite kitsch? There is a perverse humanism, even morality, at work in Matelli's visions—which have also included tableaux of vomiting Boy Scouts and murderous chimps. But his current work tones down the visual cacophony to foreground his always-pungent smarts.

Josh, a hyper-realistic figure dressed in baggy shorts and a flannel shirt, will feature prominently in Matelli's upcoming show at Koenig (April 13–May 19). The sculpture's head rests on the floor while the body rises into the air at a slight angle, as if the brain is too heavy to levitate. Matelli equivocates about what the piece, more restrained and sober than the brutalized figures of his earlier work, represents. "Is it an after-death thing? Meditation?" Matelli asks himself as we roam the studio. "It has this sort of nowhere place. Josh is the quintessential 'nowhere man,' in a way." Matelli pauses, then adds: "Strangely, I'm just thinking of that. It's a placeless thing."

Which might also describe Matelli's quietly ravishing mirror pieces, perhaps his most poetic work to date. Using gestures as vigorous as abstract-expressionist brushstrokes, Matelli creates palimpsests of desire—bluntly scrawled boasts, probing dicks, lover's name—by dragging his fingers through multiple applications of urethane sprayed onto glass. These crudities overlap and partially obscure one another, clashing spirits of the various characters Matelli earlier created in silicone and steel. "There's such a component of vanity that's linked to these pieces, a compromised vanity because of all the layers of dust and the graffiti," he says. "I like this idea of seeing yourself beneath all these layers of other people's touch."

He might have outgrown the excesses of his partying days, but Matelli's dirty mirrors and levitating slackers still pack a high-voltage charge. April 13–May 19, Leo Koenig Inc., 541-545 West 23rd Street, 212-334-9255, leokoenig.com

Anne Collier
April 4–May 12

Anne Collier often photographs other photographers' photographs. One appropriated shot, of a magazine ad featuring Cheryl Tiegs holding a high-end camera, sets the mind to wondering just how many times the supermodel has been photographed by the same type of camera she is wielding. Collier has said, "I like this visual tautology, where the final image partly describes the process of its making," and the human details she adds to mass-produced images—a pink Post-it tab on a spread of a crying Judy Garland in a coffee-table tome—reveals an insightful and sympathetic eye. Anton Kern Gallery, 532 West 20th Street, antonkerngallery.com

Jeff Gibson: 'Statusfaction'
April 5–May 6

In his book Dupe, artist Jeff Gibson satirized the verbiage of clinical psychology, using stark red and black typography, inventing such faux definitions as "misbehavioralism: an acquired disobedience approximating art." In this show, Gibson expands on his bold prints in a video that superimposes his droll observations over visual taxonomies he creates from online searches ranging across varied subjects, including architecture, helmets, and paper bags. The witty interplay of text and images on the video screen might induce another Gibson definition—"separation anxiety: a fear of turning off the television." Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, 29 Orchard Street, stephanstoyanovgallery.com

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