Corbett vs. Dempsey presents Cellar Door, a special installation created for the West Wing by Los Angeles-based artist Matt Nichols. Nichols intervenes in the architecture of the gallery, interposing a faux wall and introducing wooden sculptural objects (both leaning and free-standing) to the intimate space, calling to mind the perverse spirit of Richard Artschwager.
With artists like the Yes Men, Ai Weiwei, Jenny Holzer and Alfredo Jaar leading the charge, social practices rooted in political activism, investigative journalism and documentarian strategies have taken center stage. The effects have been palpable with contemporary art criticism focusing on notions of use value, “educational efficacy”, and quotients of truth rather than art’s capacity to “invite us to confront the more complicated considerations of our predicament” (Bishop). Cellar Door, the latest solo show by artist Matt Nichols is an aberration in the current landscape. Nichols’ work proposes a return to an autotelic art. The pieces gently beckon us to the slow meditative practice of looking.
Nichols’ set of twin sculptures, Guardian (mdf) and Guardian (pine), establish themselves as a set of miniature monuments. With allusions to antiquity, most directly to The Great Sphinx at Giza, reductions in shape and clean modernist lines entice viewers forward like Scylla and Charybdis, initiating an unsettling and intense empirical process of examination. Traditional construction methods that yield permanence and solidity instead are supplanted by Nichols with techniques that yield the ephemeral and invoke the quotidian. Paradoxically, objects are held together by a minimal smattering of painters tape, superior craftsmanship and gravity, drawing comparisons to Richard Serra’s “One Ton Prop (House of Cards)”. In this light his methodologies and the show as a whole can be viewed as a meditation on faith and an epistemological questioning of the art object. Within that questioning lies the art object as a conduit of metaphysical transportation. Through artistic alchemy, materials are transformed with subtlety and push beyond pedestrian didacticism into the transcendental space of possibility and discovery. What’s on offer here is not the dry conclusions of reason, rather, it is the spirit of exploration.
- Josh Bricker