Halsey McKay is pleased to announce the opening of Matt Kenny’s The House on County Road One, his third solo exhibition with the gallery. Kenny’s recent work is concerned with the examination of historical trajectories and these recent landscape paintings bring us to an enigmatic house along the railroad tracks between New York City and Newark Airport. Situated between the New Jersey Turnpike and the Goya distribution center along Penhorn Creek, the house sat out its final months as an incongruous artifact of the area’s fading history. It was near this site that the remains of the old Penn Station, torn down in 1963, was buried in the marshland. There is a swampy romance emanating from this house at the limits of a capital city, stranded in an industrial wasteland where nobody goes. The view calls to mind one of New Jersey’s most incisive landscape artists, Bruce Springsteen, specifically the atmosphere permeating his record The Darkness on the Edge of Town.
In 1968 Robert Smithson declared this stretch of land a “non-site.” Smithson was only one prospector drawn to this Secaucus swamp’s potential for development. Nearby is Snake Hill, the site of a potter’s grave found in 2003 that contained over 4,500 bodies. The graveyard, discovered while a new ramp was being added to the NJ Turnpike, came from a 19th-century campus that included a prison, an almshouse and a mental health facility dubbed ‘Mental Disease Hospital’. This volcanic rock jutting high out of the marshland came to be the site New Jersey chose to send its most unwanted people. This history offers an idea of what Smithson meant by “non-site.” Snake Hill has since been renamed Laurel Hill Park and includes a cricket field. The house on County Road One was torn down and replaced by a gleaming new distribution center. The drama unfolding over time around this site is mundane yet loaded.
While riding the train from Penn Station on his way to visit family, Matt Kenny began anticipating seeing the house as he passed by. Photographing the site since 2012, Kenny watched tentative changes on the lot: piles of gravel shifted, construction equipment came and went. Emblazoned on a new building between the train and One World Trade Center is the name Goya, which to Kenny’s mind is synonymous with the Spanish Painter’s The Disasters of War, rather than foodstuffs. For Kenny, the activity of painting these images of Secaucus is a means of consuming and digesting the particulars and banalities of a landscape so loaded with history’s mark. Kenny started making these paintings while he wrote ‘Coercive Beliefs,’ a non-fiction poem that seeks to contextualize the 9/11 attacks. Both the paintings and the poem adopt a journalistic vantage point, presenting facts for the viewer or reader to parse. Kenny’s long-running inquiry into the psychic impact of 9/11 is an effort to make sense of the rapid shifts in our shared environment as it tumbles into the future. One World Trade Center looms in the distance of each painting as a marker of both tragedy and progress on the other side of the river from the house on Country Road.
Matt Kenny (born 1979) earned a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at The National Exemplar, Karma and Derek Eller Gallery and 55 Gansevoort in New York. Recent group exhibitions include Interiors, with Aaron Aujla, Cooper Cole Gallery, Toronto, ON; American Sculpture, The National Exemplar, Urbanities, James Fuentes, New York, NY; Ghost Current, V1 Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark; Teste, Galleria Alessandra Bonomo, Rome, Italy among others. His work has been featured and reviewed in The New York Times, Purple Diary, Blouin ArtInfo, The East Hampton Star and Artsy Magazine among others.