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Pour la forme: Matt Paweski

by Chris Sharp

 

For sheer sanguineness, attention to detail, and preternatural craft, the sculpture of Los Angeles-based artist Matt Paweski is tough to beat—at once familiar and yet perfectly strange, if not a little uncanny. The familiarity of the work resides largely in its relationship to utilitarian design, either product or urban, and the sense that what he makes has some kind of function, however unfathomable. For upon first glance, Paweski’s sculptures are evocative of everything from a Cuisinart to a high-end espresso machine to a sort of elaborate industrial tool as seen through the perspective of Constructivism and the table-size works of the late Anthony Caro. But the closer you look, the more inscrutable and absorbingly useless they become—à la Marcel Duchamp or Bruno Munari. This specious impression of utility is aided by the product-line precision with which the works are fashioned, and their seemingly domestic scale. They appear machine-made, but they are for the most part painstakingly handcrafted and painted by the artist himself. Thus they are doubly duplicitous in their artful will to mislead us down a rabbit hole of form, function, and detail. 

 

Paweski’s fetishistic preoccupation with minutiae is not arbitrary or meaningless, but serves a much broader, more significant purpose, and has everything to do with the fundamentally sanguine character of the work. Contrary to the current zeitgeist, which is increasingly faced with the ecological fallout of Enlightenment-ethos “progress,” Paweski’s objects unapologetically fetishize industry. The impulse to structure, develop, organize, and even stylize society is, as far as this work is concerned, not all bad. What Paweski makes speaks to a fundamental belief in human achievement, on an almost purely formal level, with regard to postindustrial progress. Distancing itself from the macro, the work scrutinizes the almost hidden junctures, fulcrums, and nodes of certain modes of metal-based construction, and makes them the center of attention.

This, and more, becomes obvious in the artist’s recent exhibition Daisy Chain at Herald St, London (2020). Featuring eleven new plinth- and wall-based works made over the course of last year, the show marks a number of important shifts in Paweski’s practice. Perhaps the most immediately striking relates to the palette, which vacillates between confectionery-esque and Pop (two sides, perhaps, of the same coin). Colors play off of one another in heavy contrast—red and pink, black and yellow. DRANE brings to mind a small, inverted xylophone, or possibly some kind of handheld organ, and features a small rainbow of colors: orange, red, white, and a light lime green. The Pop quality of this unconventional gradation of color imbues the work with a real optimism. Nothing—as per Pop—like color to brighten up your day.

Two other wall-based works, LOCATION and LOCATION(ROUTR), deploy a slightly more subdued variety of color, but to equally intriguing effect. Angling out from the wall, they are marked by crisscrosses and riveted bow-tie forms, bringing to mind primitive arcade games or switchboards—in any case, some kind of interface—and if they are indeed parts of some larger whole, this signals a shift in the artist’s practice into a new relational register. Where before many of the sculptures may have seemed like autonomous, apparently functional objects in and of themselves—evoking the Cuisinart, the espresso machine, et cetera—they here assume a certain semi-autonomy. I am thinking in particular of COMPRESSR, PNCH, and RING(CUPS). Circular like crowns, gaskets, or nuts, they can be read as parts of what must be a much greater machine, and thus are more relational than earlier works I can recall, such as Tina or 2 Seater (both 2018), whose symmetrical structures and unified colors (or non-colors) tend toward the illusion of self-contained autonomy. The newer works more explicitly conjure up a conceivable context in which they might have a specific, but nevertheless unknowable, function. This is not to say that they don’t hold their own—they do—but they no longer seem like enclosed, self-contained integers. To what extent this decision is intentionally political and a direct response to current events is hard to say. It nevertheless feels political, and reflective of our current, very human predicament of mutual interdependency, as opposed to the patently retrograde belief in independence (as manifest for instance in the demon of nationalism). This is a point at which the politics of form, and the pleasure of the thing itself, become undeniable.

 

Matt Paweski (b. 1980, Detroit) lives and works in Los Angeles. Selected solo exhibitions include Daisy Chain, Herald St, London (2020); Tre sculture e un disegno, Octagon, Milan (2019); Park View / Paul Soto, Los Angeles (2018); Gordon Robichaux (two-person with Sanou Oumar), New York (2018); Lulu (two-person with Ella Kruglyanskaya), Mexico City (2018); Herald St, London (2017); Ratio 3, San Francisco (2016); Recent Sculpture, South Willard, Los Angeles (2015); and Sculpture, Herald St, London (2014). His work has been included in the recent group shows The Essential Goods Show, Fisher Parrish Gallery, New York (2020); Sculpture from a Distance (Part I), Parker Gallery, Los Angeles (2020); A Page from My Intimate Journal (Part II), Parker Gallery, Los Angeles (organized by Gordon Robichaux) (2020); Vivace, Balcony Gallery, Lisbon (2019); Automatic Door, Park View / Paul Soto, Los Angeles (2019); City Prince/sses, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2019); CONDO, Queer Thoughts, New York (2018); Softcore, curated by Matt Paweski, South Willard, Los Angeles (2018); and A Page from My Intimate Journal (Part I), Gordon Robichaux, New York (2018).

Chris Sharp is a writer and curator based in Mexico City and Los Angeles. He is the cofounder of Lulu, Mexico City; Feuilleton, Los Angeles; and LA MAISON DE RENDEZ-VOUS, Brussels.

 

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