How the Scandal around “Sleepwalker” Foreshadowed Today’s Culture Wars
Deep in the uncanny valley, Tony Matelli casts ordinary garden weeds in bronze, and constructs self-portraits using decomposing meat. His hyper-realistic sculpture Sleepwalking Man elicited controversy from its initial display at Wellesley College. Subverting the absurd comes naturally to Matelli, who tops the titular concrete Head (2017) with two strawberries in painted bronze. Matelli is represented in the collections of the Bergen Kunstmuseum, Denmark and the Musee d’arte Contemporain Montreal, and has a forthcoming solo exhibition at Marlborough Contemporary in London. Matelli created a sound installation for Public Art Fund in the fall of 1999 titled Distant Party. While standing on the corner of 15th st. and 10th Ave a visitor could hear the distant clinking of glasses, the chatter of small talk and clattering of silverware, inviting the visitor to reflect on feelings of missing out and inclusiveness.
Image rights: Courtesy of the artist
Incorporating figurative, botanical, and abstract forms in his sculpture, Tony Matelli creates uncanny objects that are both unsettling and comical. His bronze sculptures feature ropes frozen in mid-air, as if the ropes were dropped on a plinth and cast just before collapsing into inert coils. Other works rely on unusual juxtapositions, such as his weeds series in which plants sprout from the space between gallery walls and floors. Across his oeuvre, and particularly in his mirror paintings, Matelli discards traditional genre categories in favor of experiential concerns. “I like sculpture because it’s unwieldy, and there is a resistance to decoration in sculpture that I like,” Matelli has said. “Genres are at the service of ideas, not the other way around.”
American, b. 1971, Chicago, Illinois, based in New York, New York