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Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street
Vancouver, Canada
Closed for installation
until June 7, 2024

Admission always free
27 Apr 12until1 Jul 12

Matthew Monahan

B.C. Binning and Alvin Balkind Galleries

Detail image of a sculpture. A folded, collaged and photocopied drawing resembling a human figure sits on a plinth. In front of it is a sheet of glass and behind an abstract, metallic form.

Matthew Monahan, Squint Spirits (detail), 2009. Collection Arlene Goldman and George Hartman, Toronto. Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery and Stuart Shave/Modern Art

This will be the first solo exhibition in Canada of work by Los Angeles based artist Matthew Monahan. The survey brings together for the first time three distinct phases of his practice: early works using drywall, more recent pieces utilizing large sheets of glass and industrial ratchet straps and new works in cast bronze often standing atop structures made from materials found in the foundry — bricks from smelting ovens, large sheets of metal. Running throughout is Monahan’s interest in the interplay between two and three dimensions, between drawing and materiality, infused with personal mythology and a self-reflective look at the conventions of museum display.

Selected from work made during the past eight years, Monahan’s figurative sculptures and drawings evoke artefacts from another time or era. With their manipulated surfaces and contorted, fragmented bodies, they could be ancient totemic figurines, tribal masks or chunks of Greco-Roman statuary. But instead of marble, wood or stone, Monahan imbues less weighty materials like foam, wax and paper with a sense of substance, meaning and artificial patina. Some figures perch on rectangular pedestals of unfinished drywall, raw edges and exposed fixings interrupting any impulse toward preciousness; others are contained within glass cases simultaneously acting as container, plinth and discrete element within the overall sculptural composition.

In Seeing brightly (attended by the dim) (2006) figures made of carved foam blocks are placed on a drywall stand and are partly contained within glass boxes. Squint Spirits (2009) or Rubble Friends (2005-08) have folded, collaged and photocopied drawings or fragments of figurative elements sitting on chunks of polystyrene foam, attached to large sheets of glass held upright with bright orange industrial straps. Here drawings or prints are often used as the former for a mould — twisted constructions create volumes containing expanding foam that gives physical three-dimensionality to the drawn image. Other components are bound together as if for transportation, ratchet straps more usually seen securing heavy loads. Juxtaposed with pristine industrially produced material, apparent decay or objects notionally in a state of becoming suggests that works are still in progress, and in some cases they may be. Monahan constantly recycles the detritus of his own studio. This practice accounts for the wide time frame attributed to some of the pieces reflecting the temporal uncertainty that makes Monahan’s work appear both resolutely contemporary and yet timeless. Within the studio debris, chaos and visible disorder reign. However these impressions are not wholly true. Individual pieces are in a constant state of being reconfigured once process is set in motion. A fragment might sit for a while on a block of foam and then move to perch on a pile of other fragments or be collected together as a series of off-cuts, discarded objects. Elements switch from one place to another, gradually finding a discrete area where they rest a while before arriving at a state of completion after undergoing several phases of development.

There is a sense that Monahan’s practice reaches across time, cultures and geographies, and evokes the classicism within European traditions, on occasions recalling more modern figures including Rosso, Rodin and Brancusi in both methodology and form. Within the studio a diverse range of processes is in evidence — casting, carving, assembling, fabricating, drawing, and folding. Works emerge from what has been described as the “rubble of [Monahan’s] own creation.” Drawings are photocopied, redrawn, cut, and creased to become form; objects appear fractured, partial or ruined like sculptures on a tour of Rome and all the while they are seemingly unfinished, signs of their making visible.

Within this ambiguity, Monahan plays with the conventions of museum display, most powerfully in his use of glass or the conflation of object and support. As much attention is given to the intrinsic qualities of the plinth or container as to the thing itself. Datong (2005–2007) is a large rough-hewn figure lying on its side, topped by a clear, rectangular glass sheet. Similar to works in which enclosed vitrines become part of the overall sculpture, Datong blurs the boundary between artefact and protective case by placing the object of study literally “under glass” as a structural support. The glass sheets and “vitrines” are at once a sculptural component, a display mechanism and a device for viewing and contemplating other elements within the overall work. This intermingling of the object and its container calls the neutrality of display into question, suggesting that the romance of antiquity and the primitive is nothing but an historical fabrication. In creating his own relics, Monahan reminds us how the past is constructed and revises it according to his particular vision.


Matthew Monahan was born in 1972. Recent solo exhibitions include Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati (2011); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2010); Massimo de Carlo, Milan (2010); Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (2007); Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2007). Recent group exhibitions are Public Art Fund, New York (2011); Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2011); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2011); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2010); Huize Frankendael, Amsterdam (2010); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); Barbican Centre, London (2008); Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh (2008); 7th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2008); New Museum, New York (2007); 4th Berlin Biennale (2006); and Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006).