Should you find yourself in the Oxford/Regent street precincts, and wish for half an hour to spare yourself from the maddening sights and sounds of the consumer herds, then certainly you should allow yourself to veer off for five minutes onto Eastcastle Street to the Matthew Monahan exposition at the Stuart Shave/Modern Art Gallery.
Most notably, the artist has previously exhibited at the London Royal Academy, the Saatchi Gallery in London, the Contemporary Arts Centre of Cincinnati, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, amongst countless others. He has also shown twice before at this modestly elegant gallery. This particular display is thoroughly engaging in its ability to show the virtues of Monahan’s apt understanding of metal work and its potential to provide layered meaning of tactility.
On viewing the works, which are large, yet unimposing, artistic parallels are necessarily drawn to Italian artist Umberto Boccioni and Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. The latter for the shared tactile qualities of the works, the former for the apparent spatial flux in which monumental works such as Throne I and Throne II exist.
Yet, Monahan’s intention differs from such artists. His quest is to explore the notion of dimensionality, specifically within a museum or gallery context. He is questioning the artefact and its support, blurring the defining boundaries between the two, so that the viewer loses the conventional notion of where one ends and the other begins. The metal plinths that support Monahan’s fragmented sculptures are so beautifully crafted; they could easily stand alone as exhibits. Yet, together with their sculpted counterparts, they go towards uncovering the inherent exquisiteness of the materials with which they are made.
Monahan taps into a number of themes with his sculpted works. The notion of deconstruction of conventionally read forms, the idea of materiality and its relationship to figural representation, linearity and the questioning of organic vs. geometric shapes, the layering planes, and even the question of the textural communication of decay and death. These pieces offer an array of emotional-stirrings, yet Monahan’s two dimensional works, produced in oils on paper, are less thought-provoking, and lend little to the general display.
This show is a profound description of the characteristics of bronze as a sculptural material, and although certain formal elements seemingly cannot help but come off as derivative, the artist’s quest to explore the sculpture/display dynamic is certainly worth experiencing. In fact, the show merits a visit on any count, whether as a break from the buzz of central London, or for its own sake.