The central piece in Brooklyn artist Justin Matherly’s first solo show at Marginal Utility is based on the Belvedere Torso, a fragment of ancient Greek sculpture that was deeply influential during the Renaissance. The 5-foot-high knowing, even the grass We must tear up so it will stay green (all works 2010) is a rough copy of the sculpture in rugged concrete; Matherly made it after studying a cast of the torso at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Although he simplifies the original’s anatomy considerably, Matherly preserves its basic contours, while calling attention to that sculpture’s traumatic amputations. Knowing rests on a pair of walkers and a crutch; it is holey, saggy and conspicuously damaged. Lines scratched into the concrete suggest stitches; pink and yellow paint near the missing head and shoulders remind us that this is a representation of flesh. Although Matherly’s reproduction might at first seem a crude parody, it is in fact a tender reinterpretation that reconsiders the original Belvedere Torso as an object in process, one that has been violently damaged over time and is in need of both physical and conceptual recuperation.
The remainder of the show consisted of three grainy monotypes, each 3 or 4 feet on a side, based on found images. The sheets are marked with rough grids of light pigment that look like creases, as though the source images had been folded into small rectangles and then flattened out again. To hold out one’s hand for one’s partner’s turd (language operator) is based on a 1524 portrait by Bernardino Licinio of his brother’s large family. In this work, the grid lines disappear when they arrive at the faces, making it seem as though the latter were masks laid over the image. At left, the eldest son holds up a partially reconstructed statuette of the Belvedere Torso, which, Matherly told me, indicated the son’s destiny as an artist.
Everything must be arranged to a hair in a fulminating order depicts a fly feasting on dark brown goo; according to the artist, the source photo comes from the Wikipedia entry on coprophagia, the consumption of feces. The image in And I do believe that nature is about to speak, taken from a Wall Street Journal article on “The Aesthetics of Security,” shows four men—their faces reduced to blurry splotches—in front of an office building, next to potted shrubbery of the sort that provides a security barrier. An added Latin text, “Liburna Expositio Liburnae,” appears at the margins of the sheet. This phrase is susceptible to various translations, but according to Matherly, it can refer both to liberation and to the lifting of an obstacle. Even with this information, it isn’t clear whether the Latin refers to the shrubbery or the building, so the work is ultimately inscrutable. All the same, there’s something satisfying in Matherly’s opacity. It’s like looking at a mutilated sculpture; you can’t help imagining what isn’t there.
Photo: Justin Matherly: knowing, even the grass We must tear up so it will stay green, 2010, concrete and walkers, 67 by 35 by 631⁄2 inches; at Marginal Utility.