Art News 6/09

Matthew Picton at Howard House Seattle

by Richard Speer

For the works in “Postwar Landscape, An Urban History,” Matthew Picton layered cartographic imagery to illuminate the evolution of contested cities and regions through cycles of growth, destruction, and rebuilding.
The most incisive work here was the 2007 wall hanging Berlin Text Work #2, 1943, 1962, 2007, in which three sheets of clear Duralar were etched with street names and landmarks from three political eras, allowing viewers to peer through German history with a kind of temporal x-ray vision. Close inspection reveals telling changes in nomenclature: Adolf Hitler Platz was renamed Reichkanzle Platz after the World War II, and Frankfurter Allee became Stalin Allee and then Karl Marx Allee. The piece succinctly illustrates the twin impulses of those in power to commend today’s heroes while eliminating the inconvenient reminders of the past.
In the striking Hiroshima 1930 (2008), intricately configured paper sculptures, representing city blocks, rise from light boxes covering a room-size table. The silvery white glow emanating from the piece imparts a sense of ghosts embedded in the very foundations of the place.
With virtuosic invention and obsessive attention to detail, Picton used a variety of materials and techniques to explore his theme. The burned-paper Washington DC (2009) sullies the city’s rigid grid with gritty oxidation. Meticulously crafted from cutaway white Duralar over a black background, Moscow, 1808, 1905, 2007 (2008) resembles a spider web, with spindly threads trailing off, open-ended.
The artist has long deployed fastidious tracing and casting techniques to transform shifting landscapes into fixed objects. In the current body of work, however, he portrayed land as a static backdrop for people’s constructive and destructive impulses. —Richard Speer