I was going to begin this by saying, “Here’s a promising young artist who might otherwise pass under your radar.” Then on March 21, that artist, Matt Johnson, threw me for a loop. A Times Sunday Styles section article titled “New Artist in Town” was all about Johnson and how “more than one collector asked to buy the entire show.” As if that weren’t enough, I was mentioned as someone who shook his hand at the opening. And we thought late-’90s hype was safely behind us.
This splashy and off-putting print debut aside, Johnson has a way of worming into some nicely dicey sculptural terrain. He makes idiosyncratic yet everyday-looking objects that stand out and simultaneously blend in. Formally, he works in a familiar if somewhat surrealistic mode between the material ingenuity of Tom Friedman and the pensive obsessiveness of his former teacher Charles Ray. Yet Johnson is very much his own artist.
In his debut at Taxter & Spengemann, a gallery not much bigger than a Buick, Johnson, 25, exhibits six works. Three are just OK, the others create small sculptural breaches that could lead somewhere. OK are a miniature Brancusi tower of plastic ice cubes resting in a glass, a punning crow fashioned out of crowbars, and a resin sand castle that has presence but left me cold. Excellent are a rock with veins painted to spell the word RAD; Bread Face, made of plastic and oil paint; and a shelf of coins Johnson cast so that the inscriptions and figures are concave, not convex. These pieces conflate ideas about authenticity, appearance, magic, and Carl Andre. Each creates a provocative phenomenological rift.