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Matthew Monahan, 'Midnight Mission', 2009, mixed media

Matthew Monahan’s valorisation of neglected sculptural forms envelopes the transient nature of artworks in our time. In this exhibition, the LA-based artist presents failed ideals: secondary materials packed between sheets of glass and bound together with packing straps. By these means, the artist propositions ideas of display and transport, while remaining true to the figurative origins of sculpture and its classical manifestations. The exhibition gathers a comprehensive selection of Monahan’s recent works, all 2009, and although predominantly sculpture, for which he is most celebrated, it also includes a selection of works on paper.

Both gallery spaces house bold, obelisk and pedestal-like pieces that contain and elevate fragments of human form, moulded, pasted and glued together in crumpled amalgamations. In the first space ‘Squint Spirits’ floats between two sheets of glass. A signature material of the artist, the glass simultaneously contains and embodies the monochromatic work: a partial paper figure directs the viewer while two three-dimensional figures perform a giddy tableau. The artist’s approach courts methods of archival museum display and suggests a pre-emptive cataloguing of future sculpture, caught in a fluxive relationship that transcends past, present and future, suspended in makeshift cabinets.

‘Midnight Mission’, the most imposing sculpture in the gallery, reimagines a colossal figurative form that exists within these parameters. Its highest portion, a head pasted together from photocopies and embellished with charcoal, is collared with copies of renaissance style pleats that directly illustrate the facsimilic nature of his historical references. This work also highlights the contradictions of form and weight that are present in Monahan’s practice. His figurative bulks reference sculpture in its most traditional incarnation, solid and weighty, but in actuality they are light and easily transported. This manoeuvrability is endorsed by the packing straps that hold the majority of the sculptural works together, along with the modular nature of their construction.

In the rear gallery ‘The Magpie Dirge’, sits close to the floor, a head comically bound in foil models a contrived paper hat. This work is most comparable to the framed graphite chin collé works hung in the entrance of the gallery and previous space. Like ‘The Magpie Dirge’, these intricate works, simply titled ‘Pressings’ (along with a corresponding number), capture a compromisingly crushed face that has been rendered to appear as if preserved in some wayward archival process. Together with a small selection of etchings these works on paper illustrate ideas dealt with in his three dimensional practice.

The strongest pieces on show here are sculptural; this is where Monahan’s complex relationship with his materials can be realised, with its outcomes and the dialogue established in the physical act outweighing the potential of his investigations on paper. The selection of work confirms the artist’s ability in furthering the possibilities of sculpture, along with the fictive narratives that surround it.

Steven Cairns is co-editor of MAP