On ViewNicole Klagsbrun Gallery
Alberto Giacometti, Herbert Matter, Matthew Monahan, Jonathan Silver
November 2019 – March 2020
This excellent show comprising sculpture, photos of sculpture, and drawings emphasizes the frontal take of modernist and later abstraction in three-dimensional art. Put together by long-standing gallerist Nicole Klagsbrun, whose project space in Chelsea perfectly holds the exhibition’s efforts, the show communicates a shared valuation of figurative art, as well as attempts to make it new. The artists involved—ranging from Giacometti, Matter (Giacometti's brilliant photographer), and more contemporary artists such as the late Jonathan Silver, and Matthew Monahan) based in Los Angeles, but educated here at Cooper Union)—work off of modernism but interpret in their own fashion. The autonomy of these artists, beginning with the august figure of Giacometti, could not be more powerfully evident.
Matter’s pictures of Giacometti are legendary within the art community; They are stark, austere versions of the individual portraits and the small plaza gatherings by the great Italian modernist. Black and white, the images show the psychological and spiritual isolation that Giacometti portrayed so well. Matters Bust of Diego, 1954 (ca. 1960-65) is a gelatin print of the head of the brother of Giacometti, all angles and rough surfaces, in which some of Giacometti’s existential anguish is caught, overwhelming the viewer with the work’s sculptural honesty. Another work, City Square 1948 (ca.1950-65), also a gelatin print, is of a great public-oriented vision; small figures walk collectively toward the center of square, but are actually somewhere else in their minds, presumably fixed in a purgatory, neither they nor we can do much about. Giacommetti was a great artist of isolation and damaged dreams, themes that Matter, an important photographer, captures.
Silver was an art historian—he studied toward a dissertation on Giacometti with Columbia professor Meyer Schapiro, but never finished it—who became a remarkable artist. His dense figures, which look like dark-tone abstractions of classical figures (being too substantial in form to fully accommodate the slender-bodied influence of Giacometti. His small, dense, slightly messy drawings do in fact look like later versions of something Giacometti might have attempted. The sketches tend to collapse into themselves, and make them hard to read clearly, but their intensity enables them to speak out as autonomous version of art. These untitled figures feel slightly dark and private, whereas the sculptures, also always generally given to public usage, move from the private into the clear light of public form. The bronze figures of St. Cecilia (1955) and Diana (undated) are inchoate and while they are finished figurative works, they also convey an emotional reading of the sense of the past. Finally they are versions of famous female figures, historical an mythic, by an artist who had been trained well in Western art history. They are inspired versions of art historical sculptures, both old and new.
Now in his forties, on the West Coast, Monahan offers here several truncated or divided versions of male figures. Continuing the figurative tradition, he cuts into his figures—as if to impair—or augment!—their radiant energies as monumental personae. His work, a bit higher than seven feet and made of patinated bronze and stainless steel, is called Column III (The Two Step) (2014); it consists of a slender female figure entrapped in a right-edged vertical column—a case of the female or, more symbolically, the imagination trapped by male rational thinking? One hesitates to read the work too emblematically, although its classical associations are clear. A painting by Monahan, also from 2014, called Body Electric (dagger dance) shows us a tall, white-painted figure on black paper; it is an menacing image, its outline accentuated by small, sharp blades and an aggressive head made more so by the headdress’s unfathomable function. It is fair to comment that this work, like much of the work in the show, unleashes a pessimism disturbing in its implications. No matter, though, the tenor of the art: this is a show of high achievement.