Inside the unadorned walls of the Marlborough Chelsea and its Broome Street offshoot, Tony Matelli’s Garden exhibition makes it seem as though the world itself has been flipped on its axis. The show encompasses an imposing spectrum of Matelli's new works, from hyperrealistic, inverted "Adam" and "Eve"-style figures, to a set of the artist’s iconic mirror works, to a collection of garden sculpture "readymades."
The centerpieces of the Chelsea show are Figure 1 and Figure 2: two life-sized, topsy-turvy sculptures of a man and woman, balanced on the crowns of their synthetic heads. Despite their titular anonymity, “They become Adam and Eve, just in the same way that any man is Adam and any woman is Eve,” Matelli tells The Creators Project. “It speaks to our perpetual connection to mythology and history. It also confers upon it a perennial state of expulsion, our constant quest for understanding and our constant state of disappointment. Each of us is always the very first man and the very first woman.” Alongside the Edenic pair, Matelli’s enigmatic rope sculpture and its imbedded, stainless steel backbone create the illusion that the day-glo green silicone snakes weightlessly off of the gallery floor, serving “both in physical attitude and as a surrogate Edenic serpent.”
In an adjacent gallery, the artist’s signature mirrors hang. Coated with urethane and scrawled over with words and drawings from the hands of passersby, the mirrors are "designed to complicate reflection and subvert subjective clarity." Reflected in the dusty glass and scattered throughout the room stand Matelli's ghostly “assisted readymades.” Made from reclaimed, commercially-produced garden statuary sandblasted down to its concrete innards, the artist's DIY idols are topped with painted, cast bronze perishables, arranged like offerings to the god of the garden supply store. “The surrealistic incongruity of the eternally ripe produce is contrasted with the hyper-decayed concrete, simultaneously accelerating and arresting time and melding elements of the sacred and profane,” the show's press release explains.
Matelli describes his production process, which, incredibly, only took five months, as “a military operation" in terms of logistics. “The two figures were a somewhat familiar process for me although it took some veneering to get them to rest upside down, so that went smoothly,” he continues. “The concrete works, since it was the subtractive process of sandblasting was somewhat unknown and therefore a little nerve-wracking in its unpredictability. The mirror paintings although a known process for me was very stressful as well because I had to train new staff to work on those and the learning curve is very steep, and I am very particular in how I want them to look.” Near the end, Matelli and his team switched into hyperdrive, “running 3-shifts a day [and] 24/7 right up until the hour before the opening.” The results, however, are timeless.
Tony Matelli, Warrior, 2015, concrete and bronze, 55 x 21 x 17 in.
Tony Matelli’s work remains at both of the Marlborough Chelsea locations until June 20. Find out more about the show and the artist on the gallery’s website.