Matthew Day Jackson’s exhibition “In Search Of . . . ,” comprising sculpture, installation, photography and video, felt a bit lean in the soaring spaces of the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna. Even the show’s larger works seemed disjointed, estranged from each other. Then again, strangeness and disjointedness were deliberate tropes, unifying, as it were, the exhibition’s separate pieces in a rarefied glue of conceptual mystification.
The touchstone was a wry, 30-minute video from 2010 that narrates the 37-year-old artist’s (fictitious) disappearance and/or death. In relation to the Discovery Channel-like video, the other works took on a quality somewhere between the forensic and the paranormal, the serious and the droll. In deadpan tones, the video references actual works on view, including photographs taken by Jackson of natural rock formations that look like human anatomies. The photos were also reproduced in the form of a poster, which viewers could take home, almost as evidence of some supernatural occurence.
The video’s irony was shared by nearly all the objects displayed—including The Tomb (2010), a large sculpture that features eight figures, resembling astronauts or deep-sea divers, carved out of compressed wood. They carry aloft a glass coffin, which contains prostheses related to Jackson’s purported bodily remains. The photograph Me Dead at 35 (2009)—hung far across the gallery from a photograph of the artist’s son—at once parodies the notion of biography as the key to an artist’s oeuvre and evokes figures from Gino De Dominicis to Bas Jan Ader. (The former penned his own apocryphal eulogy, while the latter disappeared at sea, further inflecting his conceptual oeuvre with myths.)
Foucault’s Pendulum (2010) was suspended from an iron girder in the central gallery. The bronze and brass object swinging back and forth appeared to be a replica of Renato Bertelli’s late Futurist/Fascist sculpture Continuous Profile of Mussolini (1933). The point of this riff on another artist’s work remained entirely unclear. Similarly evocative, the repurposed chassis of Chariot II—I Like America and America Likes Me (2010) stirs up the specter of Gabriel Orozco (and the title Joseph Beuys), and a neon sign in the installation Study Collection VI (2010)—reading “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths”—refers to Bruce Nauman.
Such art historical self-consciousness fits the larger conceptual framework of Jackson’s practice. That framework was literalized, in part, in Study Collection VI. The wall-hung shelving unit displays models of bodily organs, the gnarled root of a tree, an “embalmed” Coca-Cola bottle, lightboxes and X-rays, purposefully conflating the esthetic and the mock-scientific. It’s a mix that Jackson often pursues: the atavistic/primitive and newfangled, the authentic and fabricated, the self-mythologizing and art historical. The fact that one cannot quite tell whether Jackson’s fabrications are parodies or quotations of portentous artists like Joseph Beuys is part of their mystery.
Photo: View of Matthew Day Jackson’s exhibition, showing The Tomb, 2010, found wood, resin, neon tubes and mixed mediums; at MAMbo.