Matthew Metzger’s “Backdrop” at Tony Wight Gallery

There’s no getting around the fact that Matthew Metzger makes difficult paintings. His may be among most difficult paintings I have ever seen, though the act of “seeing them” or “looking at them” is certainly not the difficult part. In his current exhibition at Tony Wight Gallery entitled, “Backdrop,” the artist presents a succinct seven paintings, rendered in the artist’s trademark, impeccable trompe l'oeil. Metzger’s practice has long employed this unwavering stylistic approach, depicting objects that also speak to the history of painting, like Duchampian rubber bands or the faux-monochrome of a Sharpie-d cover of The Eagles’ The Long Run. -Robin Dluzen, Chicago Contributor

Matthew Metzger | Guard (version 1), 2012, acrylic and oil on MRMDF, 36 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches, Image courtesy of Tony Wight Gallery

In this exhibition, the artist has selected semi-trailer mudflaps as the armatures for manifesting his conceptual goals. The five mudflaps are each painted on a MDF support true to the original scale of the actual object; each are depicted as attractively worn and dirtied with scuffs, splashes and drips in a dryly humorous reference to Expressionism, an iteration of the artist’s longtime engagement with combining the two extremes of painting history: realism and abstraction. For an informed viewer, deducing this doesn’t take long, but one soon realizes that there is much more still to figure out.

Metzger maintains a robust reading practice and writing practice, which is not surprising considering the rigor of the artist’s gallery text –arguably the eighth piece in the show, given how crucial it is to understanding the intellectual depths of the paintings’ origins. With the text, we discover that the exhibition has been built upon a vast perception of “linearity,” the beginning and endpoints of painting, and indeed the work of Daniel Buren, as referenced by the red and white stripes in In Situ, a depiction of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA with The Boss “cut out” of the LP cover. In the shadow of this context, viewers are able to draw lines between the production culture of the semi-trailers and Springsteen, and the institutional critique of Buren. Even the long rectangle of Kick Plate can be seen as a line in itself, anonymous and removed from its original context.

Matthew Metzger | In Situ, 2012, acrylic and oil on MRMDF, 24 3/4 x 12 1/4 inches, Image courtesy of Tony Wight Gallery

Matthew Metzger | Kick Plate, 2012, acrylic and oil on MRMDF, 8 x 34 inches, Image courtesy of Tony Wight Gallery

Perusing the rest of the text, a viewer begins to realize that almost every detail of Metzger’s paintings has been justified, and that each is a clue leading closer towards the artist’s allusions. Metzger’s words are as measured and masterful as his brushwork, but where the painting hand is strictly specific, his concepts are of a much wider scope. Though the artist seems to have remarkable control over the path by which viewers interpret his intentions, he also leaves plenty of room between the endpoints for the viewers to discover what they will.

Matthew Metzger  | Guard (version 2), 2012, acrylic and oil on MRMDF, 36 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches, Image courtesy of Tony Wight Gallery


Chicago-based artist, Matthew Metzger received his MFA from the University of Chicago in 2009. The artist has participated in the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting residency program and has exhibited at the Smart Museum of Art, Chicago; Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Catherine Bastide, Brussels and Arratia Beer, Berlin. Metzger is also the co-editor of Shifter Magazine. His second solo exhibition at Tony Wight Gallery, “Backdrop,” is on display 20 April - 25 May 2012.

Robin Dluzen is a Chicago-based artist and writer, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Chicago Art Magazine. Dluzen's writing can be found in such publications as art ltd. magazine, i4design Magazine, the Chicago Reader and the New American Paintings blog.


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