If, as art historian Yve-Alain Bois put it, Olafur Eliasson’s the Weather Project at the Tate from 2003 is “the kitsch of the sublime.” Then one might think of Matthew Metzger’s verisimilitudinous paintings of quotidian americana artifacts in the exhibition The Interrogative Remainder recently on view at DOVA Temporary Gallery at the University of Chicago as its precise inverse: The sublime of kitsch. Sublime in a way that is in keeping with how James Joyce famously described Stephen Deadalus’s “druid silence” while lost in contemplation of Bass Ale label. Metzger’s paintings through masterful craftsmanship transfix the eye in their play of illusion, but what is potent about them is the dialectic between absorption and the un-acculturated object. What keeps the paintings themselves from slipping into kitsch is in fact this oscillation. A work such as Lineage, a meticulously rendered painting of a ping-pong paddle, sits productively somewhere between Michael Snow’s structuralist film Wave Length and a Norman Rockwell painting, as any gesture toward resisting kitsch invariably becomes self-defeating. It is, please excuse the pun, like being caught in “kitsch sand” – the harder one fights it, the deeper one sinks into the vexing realm of kitsch. This is obviously a tricky calculus to manage. For with the perfectibility of his craft Metzger traffics in glorified technical acumen, which is the hallmark of kitsch. The work saves itself from its own devices by moving the viewer out into the world and away from rarefied atmosphere of art with a capital “A,” where the viewer not only examines the world differently, but indeed renews one’s own interrogation of how we examine the world. The “remainder” evinced by the artist is well worth pondering.
“An Interview with Mark Wallinger” with Yve-Alain Bois, Guy Brett, Margaret Iversen and Julian Stallabrass in October 123, Winter 2008. 199