Matthew Chambers at UNTITLED

Installation view – Matthew Chambers at UNTITLED

Matthew Chamber’s new exhibition at UNTITLED consists of thirty-six 8 x 4 foot vertical canvases hung edge-to-edge. The cheek by jowl and hung very low installation creates an intended confusion as to the specific characteristics and merits of each individual panel. The overall effect is impressive and immersive, representing a type of  non-linear story telling technique, like a psychotic predella panel that has taken over the chapel. The subjects run the gamut from purloined pop cartoon characters, to a lonesome cowboy, a Donald Baechleresque rose, a child’s teddy and a dear John letter, and push into inventive, quirky and effective image-making that straddles abstraction and representation.

As of this FruitAs of this Fruit, 2010, oil and acrylic on canvas, 96 x 96 inches

The collector in me is suspicious of these sorts of experiential, compressive painting installations. They seem overwhelming and powerful at first, but perhaps less so when you get your single 8 x 4 foot panel home with the gallery experience just a memory.  Yet I really do like this show on a lot of levels. It’s gritty, in your face, real, sincere and nothing if not hardworking. Chambers is long on perspiration though maybe less so on inspiration yet the sheer ambition of his maniacal vision suggests that it is worth watching this 28 year old.

Chambers took up painting while pursuing an MFA in filmmaking, which may account for the filmic device of the paintings seeming to come at the viewer like a celluloid frame. For example Chambers’ work incorporates stolen glances and half forgotten scenes, and CIA backed revolutions are apparently inspiration for his work. The youthfulness of the show is an asset. His pell-mell down and dirty borrowing from art history, popular culture, literature and his own quirky imagination reflect the current cultural gestalt. In the show as a whole Chambers wanted to regurgitate and articulate the overloaded culture of images designed for easy low-calorie consumption.

The Recapture of Excitement and Intensity of InterestThe Recapture of Excitement and Intensity of Interest, 2010, oil and acrylic on canvas

In contrast to the oil on canvas panels, Chambers also creates “strip paintings” by cutting his discarded representational work into overloaded, hand-made collages creating a dizzy display of fragmented form and texture.  Here the abstract is built from the failure to represent, a conceptual idea pursued by artists such as John Baldesarri and Martin Kippenberger who also created new work by destroying the previous.

The paintings have few strengths from the standpoint of what one seeks from great painting, whether abstract, representational or in between.  Perhaps it’s best to leave the whole subject of painting alone and grant a conceptual painter pass to Chambers, who compensates for his deficits in other ways.

In the Roughest Manner of IndicationIn the Roughest Manner of Indication, 2010, oil and acrylic on canvas

All in all, in evaluating this show, either you buy into that conceptual artist alibi or you don’t.  There is no right or wrong about this and the best painters are not always the most technically accomplished.  But certainly this hipster thread, this cult of personality over object, this hyper-banal bad boy slackerism requires the viewer to lower the bar and check expectations of sheer painterly skill at the door.  The look and feel is of a revival of 1980’s Neo-Expressive East Villageism; Chambers is a film major after all, so should we hold his feet to the fire if he can’t really paint too well?  That may not be the point of this show and how you feel about it depends on your point of view.

Ultimately, I found the show to be an aggressive, interesting spectacle and worth the time.  I found the most compelling painting to be the monumental strangely erotic tutti-frutti, half-opened zipper with the thorn-like teeth motif that evokes Barnett Newman’s Zips, and the Victorian-Freudian half-baked shtick concerning toothed vaginas.  Or is it just me?

Matthew Chambers, b.  1982 in Boise, ID, has an  MFA from Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. Solo exhibitions include An Activity So Pure, Rental Gallery, NY (2009), Proverbs About Town, Blanket Gallery, Vancouver (2009) and MAVIS, Broadway 1602, N Y (2007). Group exhibitions include Rental Gallery, NY (2009), Artisterium (2009), 2nd Tbilisi Contemporary ArtExhibition, Tbilisi (2009), Nothing Moments, MOCA, Pacific Design Center, LA (2007),  Honor Fraser Gallery, LA (2007) and  Elizabeth Dee Gallery, NY (2006).

Meredith Rosenberg currently lives in New York City where she is the Gallery Director at BravinLee programs and partner in BravinLee editions (hand-knotted rugs by contemporary artists).  BravinLee programs is pleased to participate in Seven Miami from November 30 – December 5, 2010. Follow @Meredith515 on Twitter.

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