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


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,

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,

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,

Ernesto Neto
April 12–May 26

Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto fills interior spaces with colorful netting, bulbous appendages, and pleated corridors the viewer can wander through as if inside a living organism. In the tradition of the neo-concrete artists of late ’50s Brazil, who focused on the body’s engagement with the world rather than mere visual representations (their initial manifesto decried “art that is influenced by a dangerously acute rationalism”), Neto sometimes includes scented spices to further engulf viewers’ senses. Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, 521 West 21st Street,

Michael DeLucia
April 29–June 2

Straddling the formal divide between painting and sculpture, Michael DeLucia employs a precise cutting tool to excise complex geometric patterns across standard 4-x-8-foot plywood sheets coated with paint (often an industrial-green hue used for construction scaffolding). These carefully plotted matrices create atmospheric scrims of light that beautifully complement the irregular knots and wood grain in the panels, reminding us of the organic origins, however far removed, of DeLucia’s materials. Eleven Rivington, 11 Rivington Street,

Vlatka Horvat
April 29–June 24

In the past, this Croatia-born artist has cut up photographs of figures and rearranged the pieces into startling geometric collages, a theme she carried into three dimensions by sawing a soccer goal into large fragments, which she used to chop up the gallery space. Her installations are fraught with concern about boundaries and limits (consider the bloody passion for soccer around the world). In her upcoming show, Horvat will again be working in both 2- and 3-D, dividing the gallery into framed-off sections, placed near the floor, which might conjure visions of sandboxes and wading pools, or perhaps fields of ruins. Rachel Uffner, 47 Orchard Street,

Brandon Ballengée
May 5–June 16

Whether collecting various pollutants to use as paint mediums or setting up black lights in forests to attract nocturnal bugs to his “Love Motels for Insects,” Brandon Ballengée strives to combine art with biodiversity. For his Feldman show, expect a pyramid of jars containing more than 400 preserved specimens representing the unraveling of the Gulf of Mexico’s food chain in the wake of the BP oil spill. Some of the jars will remain empty to symbolize extinct and seriously threatened species. Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 31 Mercer Street,

Marco Breuer
May 10–June 23

In an age when photographs consist of ephemeral particles viewed on screens, Marco Breuer delves into the visceral, chemical roots of the medium by using electric frying pans and other DIY tools to burn and abrade photographic paper. The rich colors and sumptuous textures of Breuer’s abstractions have a kinship to Gerhard Richter’s paintings, not least because both artists have chosen to upend the usual figure/ground balance in their chosen mediums. Von Lintel Gallery, 520 West 23rd Street,

‘Bellini, Titian, and Lotto’
May 15–September 3

If you can’t afford to fly to Italy and tramp through its churches and museums to satisfy your painting jones, relax: The Met is bringing a bit of the Renaissance to you. While the Accademia Carrara, in northern Italy, is being renovated, 14 paintings from its galleries will be on loan, including four by the always-compelling Lorenzo Lotto (c. 1480–1556), who sacrificed naturalism for a heightened palette and stylish compositions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue,