Matthew Brannon: Gentleman’s Relish
Casey Kaplan - New York
By Stephen Truax
New York-based artist Matthew Brannon continued his development of bewilderingly obtuse fictional narratives (which inform his entire practice) in his latest exhibition at Casey Kaplan, New York. The viewer was led through a noir world of psychologically complex relationships by a group of interrelated works, including handmade sculpture, letterpress prints-and only since this latest show-painting, which if read together may develop an overarching plot line, or not.
“Gentleman’s Relish,” in the artist’s own words, described “a private detective with erectile dysfunction who is hired to investigate a sexually deviant dentist.”(Stillman) The show consisted of three scenes, one for each room of the cavernous Chelsea gallery: a bar in a London train station, an apartment lobby and a powder room. Two additional scenes (the prologue and epilogue) will be staged at London’s Frieze art fair. The exhibition is constructed around a narrative which operates like a play, or a novel, yet is presented not on stage but in a gallery, which the viewer is invited to tour like a theater set, emptied of actors.
Brannon, 40, is known for his perplexing letterpress prints, which pair iconic symbols of his own design (a house plant, slippers, a glass of wine, a type writer, a knife, and poetically concise text related-or not). The prints are not editions, they are unique, and typically displayed on custom-built pedestals, walls and in display units to underscore the print’s three-dimensional physicality. From this imagery, Brannon conjures sculpture, which he uses as props and stage settings for his incredibly specific stories.
“Gentleman’s Relish” combined both: the sculptures, paintings and signs operated as props; the prints as symbols (or evidence); the text as stage notes; and a narrator’s monologue that guided the viewer through the narrative like a crime scene. Casey Kaplan (a fetishistically austere, often sparsely installed gallery known for its eccentricity) was transformed by Brannon’s unique curatorial vision.
The walls were painted an attractive light gray, which played perfectly off the light-gray and charcoal paintings of plants and leaves (the oil coyly applied in unsexy daubs on linen), ultra-crisp toothpaste-green wall signs (PLEASURE, GUILTY), ravishing notes of powdery pink in the doors, a chandelier and prints. The evidence compiled reveals a murder and the protagonist waiting at the bar to be captured by the detective. The story’s tension is echoed throughout the exhibition by its saccharine aesthetic, its too-perfect cleanliness, its effeminate color story and design sensibility, which contrasted sharply with gruesome texts and bleak titles.
Graphic design and interior decoration are clear entry points to this work. Though trained as a painter, Brannon’s focus on the context in which his work is presented began early on in his practice, when he became more interested in building custom settings for which his paintings would be displayed (office or domestic interiors) than the paintings themselves. With this presentation, Brannon seems to be critically analyzing art’s role as a conveyor of meaning and the possibility to make meaning. In the same interview, Brannon says, “I’d discovered a platform with which I could say anything.”(Stillman)
(October 27 - December 17, 2011)
• Stillman, Steel. “Matthew Brannon.” Art in America magazine, November 3, 2011.
Stephen Truax is an artist, writer and independent curator based in Brooklyn.
Filed Under: Reviews