Matthew Day Jackson
In Search of
September 16 – November 13, 2010
at Peter Blum Chelsea
Matthew Day Jackson
Modern Painters: ARTINFO Online
October 14, 2010
By Scott Indrisek
Peter Blum, New York
Through November 13, 2010
Disappearances, atrocities, and artifacts all figure strongly in New York-based Matthew Day Jackson’s recent solo exhibition, "In Search of," which accompanies an additional sculptural installation ("The Tomb") at Peter Blum’s Soho location. At the Chelsea gallery, copied and doctored front pages of the New York Times from September 16, 2006 are stacked at the front desk, with an article detailing the "mysterious disappearance" of Jackson, age 32. (Supposedly the artist’s VW bus was "found abandoned in Queens.") This theme is continued in "In Search of," 2010, a spot-on parody of cable's true crime and history shows — the gallery’s press notes identify the inspiration as Leonard Nemoy-hosted 1970s show of the same name. Jackson’s parents are interviewed about their supposedly missing son, who left behind a trove of photographs in the aforementioned abandoned van, including a series of rocky landscapes that resemble "Victorian ghost photographs." The video is both serious and satirical, and as such it’s a nice companion for Jackson’s installations and wood-based pieces, which run the gamut of eclectic references: the bombing of Hiroshima, American car culture, X-rays, and premature death.
In a side room is "Blockman," 2010, a delicate-looking sculptural stack of rapid prototype material and Lucite. Consider this the high-tech — and pricey — alternative to Cory Arcangel’s noodling experiments with vector drawings: a seemingly useless shape modeled on the computer and then expensively produced in three-dimensions. The finished product is rife with interesting reflections, and the finely-cut shapes suspended within the Lucite squares resemble fossilized amber. Like much of Jackon’s previous work, as with Sterling Ruby’s, it has a weirdly totemic aspect. Paired with the sculpture is a large-format self-portrait of sorts, "Me, Dead At 36," 2010, which purports to be Matthew Day Jackson’s lifeless form tucked beneath burlap.
The gallery’s largest room features five distinct pieces, with "Chariot II—I Like America and America Likes Me," 2008, the most prominent. This is a massive installation that takes an actual car frame as its main structure, tucking neon lights into the stripped-down underbelly and replacing the front windshield with stained glass. The whole thing is supported by a geometrically complex steel frame. You can peek your head into the vacated wheel base or through the passenger side window; the sculpture’s interior lacks the crumpled up Schlitz cans or dog-eared copies of Guns’n Ammo that the work’s materials, and title, might lead you to expect. On a wall facing the car is "Study Collection VI," 2010, an ordered hodgepodge of materials (busts of human heads, X-rays, an Eames leg-brace). The loaded shelves, arranged with quasi-scientific zeal, seem to reflect points made in the "In Search of" video — either in jest or in earnest, or a bit of both — about the artifacts that human civilization leaves behind.
Which brings us to Jackson’s three large-scale works using unconventional materials such as found wood and pieces of Ikea furniture. These are all based around two moments of particular resonance in American history: the moon landing in 1969, and the Enola Gay’s bombing of Hiroshima. "August 6, 1945," 2010, is an aerial view of that city, built from pieces of scorched wood. Perhaps the symbolism is a bit blunt here, but the scale and impact of the piece make up for it. "LIFE magazine: June 6, 1969," 2010, recreates an iconic cover of LIFE magazine, using modified gypsum board as a photo-realistic stand-in for the pitted surface of the moon itself. The dates featured in the works provide a not-so-subtle reminder: these are the triumphs and tragedies that a global superpower can enact within the span of a few pivotal decades. Perhaps the missing subject in Jackson’s exhibition title refers not to the artist himself, but rather to an America that’s been misplaced — somewhere between the atom bomb and a Tea Bag-wielding, NASCAR-worshiping subculture.