Things Aren't What They Seem in Matthew Gallagher's Research & Development Exhibit at Hedge

Things Aren't What They Seem in Matthew Gallagher's Research & Development Exhibit at Hedge
Photo by Kelli Finnegan Photography

Matthew Gallagher: Research & Development

On view through June 15, at HEDGE Gallery, 1300 West 78th St.

We are standing in front of "Magnetic Field Fossil," a small, organic sculpture created with white iron and acrylic. "It looks like a sea urchin of some kind, or a bulb," says an admirer at the opening reception of Matthew Gallagher's solo exhibition, Research & Development, currently on view at Hedge. Gallagher's work had people trying to figure out the enigma of process while discovering new forms with their minds' eye. "They are all latching onto something, like they are formed out of nothing," continues another viewer.

Chewy cityscapes, dynamic drawings, moments in time and crunchy aliens comprise some of the craziest artworks we have seen come out of this city in a while. Combining science experiments with art is certainly not a new thing, but Gallagher somehow elevates and equalizes the tension between these two forms of creative endeavor.

Again we are enthralled by the small sculptural works, which are created using magnets.

"I'm pretty transparent about the technique," Gallagher says as we walk through the exhibition a few days after the opening. "There's still mystery about it. The pieces look like explosions, but they are really imploding. Whether you are exploding or imploding, it looks the same. The iron is building on itself, but in a way where they are trying to get to the most magnetic power. The iron wants to get to the strongest point in the magnetic field so it is climbing over itself to get to it." When asked if he has filmed the process, Gallagher admits that it's difficult to do so since the work is labor intensive. "If there's a misstep and something falls on the side of the plexiglas box, then I consider the piece ruined."

The cityscapes and many of the encaustic works look like shafts of shelf fungus, that half-moon shaped 'shroom that one mostly sees on fallen tree trunks. All of the encaustic works are encased under protective cover. We assumed correctly that the plexiglass is used to keep people from touching, but also to protect artworks from dust, as they are quite delicate. They resemble artifacts in this way — cities under glass, organisms. Gallagher points out that, "I grew up in Boston and the Harvard Natural History Museum displayed specimens under glass. The labels were handwritten and yellowing. They had fuzzy rocks and minerals there and you are dying to touch them, but they are so incredibly fragile that a brush of a hand would result in collapse."

There's a very cool, inner tension that Gallagher's work draws from us, as if we ourselves are being manipulated by a magnetic pull. We want to reach in and scrape the materials under our fingernails, even knowing that would completely destroy the piece. The feeling is akin to being a child in the candy shop who wants to touch everything, but knows she would be in a load of trouble from Mom.

Among the more sculptural works, there are paintings under polycarbonate. "These are the newest and the riskiest paintings in the show," the artist admits. However, the two paintings, "One Pole" and "Two Pole," are simple and serene with yellow and sage pigments with iron waving beneath the smooth, shiny surface like shifting fields of grain or undulating seaweed.

As we move into the smaller of the two gallery rooms, we encounter Gallagher's experimental drawings. They are deceptive in how they resemble watercolor paintings or even prints. Here he uses assorted markers with acetone, which have a different effect than alcohol. We see the X-ray of an eyeball in the four drawings on the back wall. We wonder what the artist must be thinking in his studio when he's creating these artworks, which is exactly what the public was asking at the opening reception.

On the opposite wall, the 30-by-30-inch ballpoint pen drawings are flowing grids that disorient and hypnotize at once. When we think about artwork being alive, we usually consider salt or oxidization or melting; we don't necessarily think about a solvent continually blowing out a drawing due to humidity. These grid drawings employ a slow-moving dynamic. The rigid grid is there, but no longer evident. The lines bleed out, heaving and surging to simulate a convincingly vibrating effect.

The two large paintings in the smaller room are the last pieces we discuss. Both are created using a magnet to manipulate and pull the iron through the surface. One is yellow with hints of red ochre and black, and the other looks like it has been smudged. "This (second) one is titled 'Real Life Blur Tool,'" Gallagher says, "because it reminds me of the Photoshop tool. It's getting rare to see artists who do not use a computer in their creative process. Sometimes I think maybe I need to, but where's the fun in that?"

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