What did The New Yorker say? “a very big show of very bad art” and “…tastelessly. (Not in bad taste—in no taste, savoring solely of blind ambition.)” I like Matthew Day Jackson’s work from the jump off. He had me with armed bunnies and sails made from old band shirts. There was a moment in the early to mid 2000’s that Jackson was blowing up and spawning hipster wannabes left and right. He was the Roe Ethridge of sculpture with his random, ambitious, cryptic but attractive installations of collages, florescent wax skulls, hot rods with stained-glass windows photographs of rocks that looked like faces, creating a combination of work whose and connection to a subject was often beyond me. But it looked cool and seemed to be about something even if that something, was just looking contemporary and part of youth culture.
So I was excited for Jackson’s reappearance at Hauser and Wirth. I don’t think the show worked, but I don’t think it was bad as The New Yorker’s blurb. I think the issue was more the venue than anything else. The last time I saw Jackson’s work, he was just off his residency at MIT, where his eclectic work felt like he had raided MIT’s storage closet and turned discarded remnants of old experiments into colorful and sexy sculptures. For instance, the abstract topographic aerial view of Hiroshima made from burnt wood made sense and almost felt critical being hung inside a mecca of scientific development that surely contributed knowledge that help invent the nuclear bomb. The piece might have been a little heavy-handed, but was tethered by other stuff in the show, which made the space feel like the garage of a hipster hoarder. But in Hauser Wirth’s gigantic museum-like space, Jackson’s cars and large rocks don’t seem ambitious, they become expected. In the large space, the work seemed like a series of concise little shows without the sense of a fever pitch of creative output. It doesn’t help that almost everything in the show is either brown or black, robbing the viewer of Jackson’s usual aggressive use of color. There is a whole room of dissected wax statue versions of the artist that unfortunately feel more like a guy who does realist sculptures, than an obnoxious egotist. The Hiroshima burnt wood pieces have multiplied and now just look like abstractions. It’s all too bad, because I somehow suspect in a smaller space this could have an electric reboot of his career. Instead we get a safe large-scale version that just doesn’t hold up at this scale.