3143 S. La Cienega Blvd., Unit A, Los Angeles, CA 90016
Start with Tour Guide (all works 2010), the hybrid print-and-sculpture that serves as entry into Matthew Brannon’s exhibition, “Wit’s End.” Following the artist’s familiar retro-Madison-Avenue/cover-of-The-New-Yorker illustrative style and image-text format, its letterpress print centers on a flute of viridian champagne fizzed with Braille-like white bubbles that sits atop a sideways iPod. In a characteristically demure visual pun, tipsiness twins tipped over music. Below the champagne and iPod totem, the print’s casual narrative note (a tip of the hat to Allen Ruppersberg’s serial literary paean to organizational logics, “Honey, I rearranged the collection…”) prepares us in domestic lingo for a reorientation of Brannon’s practice (shown below):
The practice has been reshuffled according to a new emphasis on painterly production. Under the influence of some bubbly, the urge to move things around comes off like a drunken impulse, a woozy and revealing loosening of the artist’s aesthetic constraints and inhibitions.
A watery blue-green handrail beneath the print steadies the impulse and wraps around the front wall, extending like a pier out into the middle of the main gallery’s panorama of paintings—scenes from a desaturated Marimekko jungle. The guide rail sets up its particular aqua shade of green as a punctuating figure that appears sparingly here and there to structure this otherwise black, white, and gray group of eleven paintings, four prints, five drawings, and one vinyl record. The color shows up (mostly in the prints) as numbers on receipts and price tags, as micro-fictions and the abstracted shorthand for text, as the geometric stand-in for The White House’s guard-rail or lawn, and as the filter of a wooden cigarette resting inconspicuously on the top ledge of a black canvas. A foil to the show’s tonal constraints, the isolated color bobs and weaves through fiduciary, covetous, immature, sickly, and ecological connotations. Though chromatically absent everywhere else, greenness courses metaphorically through the large flat heart-shaped and teardrop leaves of the paintings’ obscured floral motifs and the quivering lines of Brannon’s Ellsworth Kelly-esque plant drawings.
The plant drawings (apparently inked by the artist in Liam Gillick’s garden) incongruously pass vegetation and the edenic through the sexualized embodiment of their shared title, Prostitute. Or, rather, the other way around, they lay the prostitute in the flowerbed. Emanating from the small side gallery where the Prostitute plant drawings cluster, Brannon’s limited edition vinyl record, Gag, amplifies the strained and broken sounds of a porn actress forcefully blowing and gagging on a dildo. This is the masochistic soundtrack of “Wit’s End”: abortive speech-acts, halting guttural emissions, and stifled staccato gasps that cycle in a gag (joke?) loop. Maybe the darkling gag, if there is any, is that her self-asphyxiating blowjob is a ‘blowing it’ gesture, you know, fucking up bad, failing, losing it, dropping the ball(s).
Bruce Hainley wrote a poem, "Note" from his collection Foul Mouth, about the nuanced joys of blowjobs and how “giving a blow job educates anyone in how to control the gag reflex, / which living in this world makes for a valuable skill.” Gag obsessively, pathologically practices this skill, over and over, neurotically training the body to test its limits of repulsion and incorporation, rejection and engorgement. The sudden and strained bouts of choking, disembodied and defamiliarized through sonic transmission, metamorphose the human into the animal, wild and desperate in Brannon’s quaking forest foliage. This must be where wit ends—in a state of frustrated articulation, aporia, blockage, and (as one painting’s title has it) Loss of Words. It ends where sex erupts and consumes. It ends in a gag that stuffs and silences the mouth with the other, placing the oral under review (under attack? under scouring sterilization? See Mouthwash) as a pre(post)-linguistic orifice of floral and animal dimension.
End with the black flip-diptych Oral & Anal, that Freudian book-ending of the painting-object and painter-body. Keep the anal plugged into the backside of the oral while facing the white open-ended floral diptych A Question Answered With A Quote, which rhymes two blossoming flowers with two electrical outlet plugs (looking more and more like little open-mouthed sad faces waiting to be gagged). I can’t say what ‘a question’ is, but the quote that answers it is, to wit, from Bataille and found letterpressed into the back of Gag’s record sleeve: “…having as its object not only the direction of the discharges thrust back through the head—transforming the head into something completely different from the mouth, making it a kind of flower blossoming with the most delirious richness of forms…”
- Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer
Matthew Brannon, Tour Guide, 2010, sculpture: steel, enamel, wood print: letterpress on paper, sculpture: 39.5 x 237.5 x 97 inches (100.3 x 603.3 x 246.4 cm) print: 24 x 18 inches (61 x 45.7 cm); Tour Guide, 2010, (detail) letterpress on paper, print: 24 x 18 inches (61 x 45.7 cm); Installation View, Prostitute and Gag, both works 2010; Oral & Anal, 2010, left: oil on canvas right: acrylic on canvas, linen, collage, left: 72 x 60 x 1.5 inches (182.9 x 152.4 x 3.8 cm) right: 32 x 26.5 x 1.5 inches (81.3 x 67.3 x 3.8 cm); Installation View, Wit's End