Alright, I don’t know any other way to do this. I’m going to have to make this personal. Bear with me for a moment, I’m about to open up to you folks. You see, I have this bizarre little quirk. I have many actually, but for the purposes of this review, let’s pretend it’s just the one. I have an irrational discomfort with odd numbers. They make me really uneasy. I have to have the volume on the T.V. or stereo set to a round number. When I cook, I try to use two pans when one will do. I stop pumping gas before the tank is full, so I don’t have to see a number that makes my skin crawl. That sort of thing. Okay, so there are many numbers imbedded in the beautiful arcana of Matjames Metson’s assemblages. Thus the work ends up being confrontational for me, in ways I’m pretty certain wasn’t his intent. I have to run the numbers through several calculations in my head, until I reach a round number that unlocks the ghostly photographs in the art, and lets them speak. I know, it’s weird.
At the opening of “Method Attic,” Metson’s epic solo show at Coagula Curatorial Saturday night, there was a man who, after recognizing a particular number repetition, exclaimed to his friend “12! There it is again! 12! 12!” Bless his heart! That man’s metronomic outburst unlocked all of the 120 some-odd pieces in the show. The room was emancipated with the cries and whispers of long untold stories and secret heartaches. Nestled within Metson’s world of distressed wood, broken pencils, wire, buttons, quill nibs, nails, antlers, and golden wasps, are pre-World War II photographs of those souls that inhabited a shared history, but now they are ghosts. They all seem sad but strong, defiant even. Yet still constrained and trapped by the very nature of our unknowing. They have things to tell us. Matjames creates complex stages for them to do just that.
The show at Coagula was a bit of a jolt for me. I wasn’t really prepared for it. I had seen most of these pieces before, at Metson’s studio. There they hung randomly on giant walls that provided a safe distance. At Coagula though, these pieces are in the direct path of your psyche. At eye level, each exquisite piece oscillates with its own quiet power. “Haunted” is a word that keeps coming up when people try to describe his work. I suppose there’s no way around that. Some of the materials used here where collected in the wake of a tragedy. And believe me, we leave a little bit of ourselves in everything we touch.
Someone asked me what my favorite piece was, and all I could do was talk about each one of them. Relatively small works like The Doctor or Her Pilot are huge to me. They exemplify the tradition of an artist speaking through his work and transforming all the pain into something of staggering beauty. Then there are the large towers, and intricate thrones, which reveal Matjames to be a superb craftsman, bending the rules and pushing the bar a little higher for all of us. Three Wasps is a masterpiece by any measure, and I’d place it alongside Rauschenberg’s Monogram as a seminal piece in an undeniably important oeuvre. So, “which is my favorite”? All of them.
“Matjames Metson – Method Attic” has been extended through August 4th at Coagula Curatorial. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment. Don’t miss it!
Feature written by Keith Ross Dugas. Photography by Cartwheel’s own Lee Joseph.