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Tony Matelli's perfectly life-like bronze sculptures elevate every-day objects.
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For his latest show of perfectly life like sculpture at Leo Koenig Gallery, Tony Matelli finds and champions some pretty unusual underdogs. Take this perfect replica of a weed which is actually made in bronze. It is part of a series of plant life that has been transplanted from urban jungle to Pristine Gallery space. It is like each of Matelli’s plants as taking part in a fairy tale where it goes from lovely weed to a beautiful art object which according to the checklist which sets you back $18,000.00.
Matelli’s skill as a sculptor disguises the incredible amount of labor that goes into just one weed. Because of the thinness and the detail of the leaves, he commissioned jewelers to have those cast and the stalk was manufactured in an art foundry. All the pieces arrived back at his studio where he pieced them together as he wanted and then painted it. Like the weed, most of the sculptures in this show are made of bronze that traditional sculptural material used from Millennia. In addition to making the sculpture more permanent though, the technique allows Matelli to do things with this robe that real robe would not do, creating a very subtly puzzling experience.
By contrast, old enemy new victim does not rely on illusion to make a point. It is made from steel, fiber glass but instead the intensity of the attack happening right here at the gallery entrance and the extreme contrast between the characters make it eye popping. It is starved versus obese, ghoulish faces of skinny monkeys versus the clown like face of the victim. Male attackers versus possibly a female victim. It is actually scary how many situations this sculpture could describe, I heard people come in the gallery and immediately identify it as two sons attacking their mother. I read it as political commentary and looked at the apes faces for resemblances to politicians.
In fact, Matelli conceived of it during a bitter eviction struggle with his landlord. The fact that it could refer to many relationships between those with and without power and that it reverses the normal order of things in which the underdog gets the upper hand, it just gives the piece more strength. I thought the apes were the high point of the show but Matelli says that this piece on the back gallery more directly communicates his thinking. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Instead of having a clumsy gas canister under the table or a tube sneaking away to one he found a way to put liquid paraffin in this innocuous looking tin and run a wick up through this two $100 bills, which are porcelain coated steel.
He worked with the decal manufacture to make then back in his studio he baked it on in his kiln and browned the edge with brown paint. Matelli is right about this piece being powerful, the idea of burning money or leaving it lying around the back room of the gallery is going to tag at most people’s heart strings. The pieces title tells us we can free ourselves by rejecting the system that money represents. Although like everything else in this show is for sale, so how serious is he?
Like much of the sculpture in the show this piece is so masterfully made that it is enjoyable to look at and be surprised by even if the underlying message is so deeply pessimistic. He has reached the high point in the sculpture making and a low point in frustration with life. He suggests no real redemption or means of rescue after all he is not giving his money away, he is burning it. So what do you do after that?