March 25, 2019

FRESH TO DEATH

Old-world dilapidation meets ripe bananas. Need we explain?

New York artist Tony Matelli’s world is a balancing act of the banal and the sublime. Case in point: his most recent series, “Garden,” which features seemingly unearthed ancient statuary with errant avocados, crab claws, and salamis perched on their heads and shoulders. 

Matelli’s concrete “antiquities”—sandblasted to near obliteration and then adorned with cast bronze fruits and meats— may read like a tongue-in-cheek commentary on classical art. But, as with most of the artist’s work, they draw off much more. 

When passing by a burnt-out taxicab back in 2014, Matelli was inspired to add a strawberry that he was snacking on to the dented and rusted metal. 

“It had a resonance to me that I thought was powerful and could communicate with people,” Matelli recalls of the unlikely juxtaposition of ripe fruit and industrial decay. “It spoke clearly about something that was fresh and not fresh, and there was something nice about that contradiction.” 

The arrested nature of time was again brought to the forefront of the artist’s mind by a sprouting piece of garlic in his fridge. What an average person might simply view as an overripe vegetable became a parable of the Christian narrative in Matelli’s eyes— “the idea of rebirth and needing to die to be born again.” 

“I was thinking about an object whose lifespan has been used up,” he explains. “Something that’s at the end of its life. I decided to use these pieces of antiquity because they spoke to the body and then pair that with something at the height of its potential and freshness. I like the idea of freezing those objects at the peak of life.” 

Matelli has trafficked in hyperrealism throughout his successful 20-year career, with his sculptures of hapless humans garnering him a solo show at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark in 2012 and a spot in the 2011 Venice Biennale. 

Perhaps most famous for works like Sleepwalker (2014)—his life-size sculpture of a zoned-out somnambulist trotting along in his tighty whities on New York’s High Line—Matelli has sometimes sparked controversy with his representational sculptures on display. 

His boil-covered, self-portrait Total Torpor, Mad Malaise (2003) drew the ire of observers, while the aforementioned Sleepwalker riled the student body of the all-girls Wellesley College after it was installed outside its museum. The fine edge he walks made him a natural choice as a guest exhibitor this spring at The Joule. The hotel has established a reputation for showcasing attention-grabbing works in its lobby, particularly during Dallas Art Month. (Remember last year’s nine-foot-tall King Dong from The Haas Brothers?) 

While Matelli is used to viewers getting a little overexcited by his work, he hopes that the pieces in “Garden” will make even the most leisurely stroller through The Joule stop and reflect. “I want (the works) to feel casual and almost feel like a like a low level of vandalism happened to these statutes—that there’s a kind of benign disrespect by putting essentially perishable stuff on them. I want to put people back on their heels a little bit and take them out of that rigid art space. You don’t know how to regard these objects, and that’s a great place for art to reside.” —Kendall Morgan 

The Details: Catch select works from “Garden” on loan from Marlborough Gallery in The Joule lobby through the month of April.