Critics’ Picks

Life's a Beach, 2004.

Life's a Beach, 2004.

New York

Matt Johnson

Taxter & Spengemann
459 West 18th Street
March 13–April 10, 2004

Los Angeles artist Matt Johnson’s solo debut exhibition of six small sculptures and one photograph highlights a fringe benefit of New York’s apartment-galleries: Their intimacy affords young artists the opportunity to show alone without the pressure of having to fill a cavernous Chelsea space. A former student of Charles Ray, Johnson wears his teacher’s influence on his sleeve—one could choose worse role models—and translates the modified scale of several of Ray’s conceptual witticisms into the tweaked materials of his own. Life’s a Beach, 2004, is a sand castle shored up by wood, fiberglass, and epoxy, convincing in its verisimilitude yet durably portable; Breadface, 2004, renders a child’s playfully bitten Wonder slice in painted cast plastic. All the works display a sly imagination, but the best is paired with an undercurrent of art-historical awareness (think of Ink Box, 1986, Ray’s subversive minimalist cube). Improbably rising from a drinking glass, Johnson’s column of faux ice cubes—made of cast urethane plastic stuffed with cotton balls—nods to Brancusi without losing its irreverence or visual appeal.