New York

Linda Matalon

Like living organisms, Linda Matalon’s sculptures are both idiosyncratic and occasionally infirm. Painstakingly imperfect, they show evidence of long, and possibly tedious, hours of production. Though created from a modest range of materials, these works have a disquieting presence.

The most complex and ambitious piece in the exhibition, What Remains, 1993, examines the points at which the animate and the abstract intersect—a question addressed by all of the works in this show but without the particular urgency of this piece. Constructed of wire and gauze, held together with viscous materials including wax, glue, and tar, parallel processions of multiple elements dangle from the ceiling at eye-level. Like rows of hanging meat in a butcher store, What Remains is both fascinating and disturbing. Single pieces are suspended from a sinewy tangle of wire and string; the gauze and wax forms are misshapen, discolored, and awkwardly made. Wax is often used as a preservative and these elements look like a flock of diminutive mummies.

Like human skin, Matalon’s materials function both as protective layers and as signs of vulnerability. This duality is emphasized by the one element of What Remains that is surrounded by a cylinder of wire mesh, simultaneously suggesting incarceration and refuge. She Blankets the Skin with Secrets, 1993, engages related ideas and sensations. Here, the suspended pieces are arranged to suggest two torsos—mute, headless, awkward partners bound by the intimacy of shared limitations. They look like abaci composed of small, gauze rectangles held in place by wire. As with all of her sculptures, there were discomfiting inconsistencies here: what began as a rational system was undermined by a production process that seemed at once fastidious and careless.

There was an unmistakable affinity between the drawings and sculptures, underscored by Matalon’s obsessive and gestural manipulation of her materials. Paper surfaces were handled, smudged, and torn. Wax, glue, and Vaseline were rubbed over linear elements as if to call into question the notion of an underlying, ordered structure. Surviving Time, 1994, served as a link between the drawings and the sculptural works. Placed against the wall, each of its elements was larger than those in the other sculptures, corresponding in size to the gestural scale of the drawings. This work consisted of 13 pairs of black limbs made of gauze and tar. Each piece—with one exception—was encircled by a wiry epidermis that formed an external skeletal frame. Stacked top to bottom in three rows of increasing length, the final row of eight pairs either rested on the floor or hung just above it. The visceral, gnarled forms formed dark, brooding silhouettes against the white wall.

There is an aggressive humility in this work, a superb control of materials and their conceptual significance. Even if perceived as digits, limbs, penises, viscera, or vertebrae, the viewer cannot confidently proceed with precise associations. Matalon’s deft manipulation of abstraction leads us to contemplate the psychological dimensions of figuration.

Patricia C. Phillips