ArtForum 4/09

Matthew Picton at SolwayJones
April 25–June 13

by Annie Buckley

Prior to becoming an artist, Matthew Picton studied politics and history at the London School of Economics, a biographical detail that proves integral to his newest body of work, on view in the sophisticated “Postwar Landscapes.” Picton’s exhibition comprises five multimedia pieces: sculptural maps of Berlin, Hiroshima, Washington, DC, Moscow, and Warsaw. The weblike tracings of precisely cut and painted Mylar in two of these works draw on a process Picton has used previously. One of them—Moscow 1808, 1905, 2007, 2008—consists of three layers of intricate white Dura-Lar forms pinned to a black ground. The three strata correspond to maps of the city from each of the years cited in the work’s title, resulting in a beautiful tracery akin to a spiderweb, while serving as a complex survey of a place over a period of time.

By pushing his material choices, Picton expands the conceptual arc of his project; three works in this exhibition present new challenges in the aesthetic mapping of geography and time. The strongest of these, Washington DC, 2009, is an eerie dramatization of the nation’s capital, made from carefully incised burned paper and hung on the wall. Blocky areas of the city form a maze of tiny white roomlike structures, the edges of each disintegrated and stained reddish brown by the smoke. The use of fire adds an element of unpredictability and chaos to an otherwise highly controlled process, a bridge between the cool distance of record keeping and the playful curiosity of imagination. The “what if” here is less a question of Washington burning and more the insertion of a sense of wonder into meticulous abstraction—as if Picton paused in the midst of making one of his conscientiously assembled constructions to ponder what might happen if it served as the set of a sleek Hollywood disaster.
— Annie Buckley