On ViewAndrea Rosen Gallery
September 12 – October 22, 2014
The paintings, sculpture, and video in this exhibition seem like an unnaturally contained drop in the bucket compared to the explosive output of Matthew Ritchie’s on-going residency at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Still, Andrea Rosen neatly captures the essence of Ritchie’s long-term project, namely his creation of a lively and original visual language that synthesizes and re-imagines the human race’s extensive use of diagrams to organize information. Ritchie employs a range of visual motifs to approach this colossal problem from a variety of angles, skillfully shedding light on different aspects of our swirling, chaotic universe.
Key to understanding this effort is a two-volume source book called The Temptation of the Diagram. In it are hundreds, if not thousands, of diagrams culled from disciplines including but not limited to geometry, physics, chemistry, geography, and psychology. Taken in their entirety, the diagrams can be viewed as discrete but related languages devised to explain various aspects of physical phenomena. Ritchie takes the human urge to diagram to a whole new level, making art of this scientific Tower of Babel.
The visual and intellectual lynchpin of the exhibit is an immense graffiti-like drawing, also titled “The Temptation of the Diagram” (2014). Printed on Phototex and applied to the gallery walls, it touches the edge of a painting in the main gallery and wraps around a wall into a second room, linking the paintings with those in the next room and unifying separate spaces, the latter of which contains a single large black sculpture. Comprised of broken and altered scientific diagrams overlaid with finely drawn, kinetic gestural lines, it directly incorporates Ritchie’s source materials and evokes the chaos of the overwhelming amount of information available in this digital world. Despite the wild outpouring of energy from the network of black lines, the work feels cerebral and rational.
If the wall installation highlights the breadth of Ritchie’s investigation, the paintings add a layer of depth and humanity to it. They make the leap from a two-dimensional, monochromatic idea to a multi-dimensional, polychromatic world full of light and emotion. Traces of fragmented charts, tables, connecting lines, matrices, and broken networks weave through the compositions. Transparent washes of pigment create depth, form, and light, as well as a complex web of associations. Gestural brushwork formally unifies the surface, but more importantly, adds a touch of emotionality to the otherwise carefully composed and abstracted works. Whereas the black-and-white drawing alludes to the existence and complexity of diagrammatic systems, the paintings remind us that these systems are alive.
Ritchie has combined the language of painterly abstraction with the language of scientific knowledge to create entirely new worlds. In “Link of Nature” (2014), gestural green washes are layered into an almost three-dimensional form, evoking an ambiguous photosynthesizing cluster. Interspersed throughout the composition are lines inspired by scientific illustration that form a scaffold of sorts for the composition and imply the collision of separate orbiting visual systems. The composition sits asymmetrically on the canvas, balanced by a considerable amount of cold white space and giving the impression of glimpsing an unfurling mass of organic matter as it passes through space. Like all the others, the painting is quite elegant. Yet for all the work’s references to informational chaos and resulting sense of movement, it is oddly restrained; nothing in this fabricated world should make sense or have order, and yet every element holds its place.
Visual investigations also inform “Monstrance” (2014), the video in the final room of the gallery. Originally developed as a site-specific installation for the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage in Boston and beautifully scored by Bryce Dessner, the piece’s structure has an implied narrative with sorrowful characters and an intermittent sense of place. It integrates scenes of a woman wearing a matrix-like sculpted facemask cum headdress and people walking a deserted beach with abstract passages of brightly colored diagrammatic patterns. Light yellow and gold angel motifs morph smoothly into psychedelic designs. Although the narrative components are somewhat foreboding in tone, the light emanating from the ever-changing patterns and an uplifting choral score connect it more directly to the positive energy of the other works in the exhibit.
Ten Possible Links provides a challenging tour through the highways of Ritchie’s imagination. There’s a relatively rational analysis of how diagrams convey information combined with an overwhelming sense of chaos; there are the living, breathing clusters of disaggregated information that seems to harbor an answer to one of the uncountable mysteries of life; and there’s an uncomfortable human narrative that is somehow absolved through visual flights of fancy. In “Night Drawing” (2014), Ritchie transforms one of his explosive visual motifs into a pitch black sculpture/bench fashioned from powder coated aluminum. From it, one can contemplate the interconnectedness and beauty of it all.