Magazine article Artforum International

Matthys Gerber: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Magazine article Artforum International

Matthys Gerber: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Article excerpt

Matthys Gerber

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART AUSTRALIA

Dutch-born Australian painter Matthys Gerber has been a fixture of the notoriously quarrelsome Sydney contemporary-art scene for roughly three decades. Consistently provocative and protean in terms of style and content, his work has been routinely dismissed by conservative commentators as cynical dilettantism or careerist one-upmanship. For Gerber's first major survey, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia senior curator Natasha Bullock countered this perception by framing the artist's output as a meta-critique of painting in the Australian context, claiming that his work "has always carved a singular path through the 'idea' of painting." The thirty-five works presented here as an evenly representative, if not comprehensive, jumble of distinct phases portrayed an artist constantly probing the limits and conditions of his own subjectivity and practice.

Gerber first gained attention in the mid- to late 1980s with large, kitschy figurative genre paintings that in the wake of postmodern revision were broadly construed as ironic affronts to Greenbergian connoisseurship, a charge vehemently, though implausibly, denied by the artist. Hostile pundits had a field day with such works as L'Origine du Monde #1, 1992, a lurid outsize rendering of a restaurant-decor waterfall, whose title summoned Courbet's supreme icon of artistic eroticism. Yellow Peril, 1990 (not exhibited here), a patently Orientalist depiction of a naked Asian woman, and Black Painting (Evander Holyfield), 1990, a smoldering portrait of the champion boxer with heavyweight belt, likewise courted opprobrium from high cultural (and politically correct) quarters. A period of transition followed, during which Gerber seems to have drifted gradually toward abstraction. His mid-'90s cloud paintings, for instance, signaled an interest in amorphous form and, freed of cultural reference, foregrounded his virtuosic ability.

Yet there were earlier glimmers of the shift to abstraction. A 1993 collaboration with late Australian artist Adam Cullen (1965-2012) produced engaging monstrosities featuring swaths of sloppy smears, glitter-encrusted AbEx drips, and scrawled text that, along with solo experiments in allover biomorphic layering, as exemplified here by Mata Hari, 1994, paved the way for an examination of nonfigurative effects. Although his early abstractions may appear somewhat perverse or wilfully awkward--bearing a passing resemblance to the work of contemporary European painters such as Franz Ackermann and Albert Oehlen--there is a discernible progression around 2000 toward a more sincere embrace of the material and semiotic properties of painting, specifically as they relate to the local context. …

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