Tony Matelli's artistic practice juxtaposes the ancient and the topical, the classical and the common. Matelli describes his surreal garden statues as modem-day memento mori, a still life that suggests the transience of life, how the moment of perfection is the start of decay.
Hera (half), 2018, is one of the most monumental of Matelli's anti-monument sculptures. Hera was the Queen of the Greek Pantheon, and ruled over heaven and earth. She was the Goddess of marriage and birth, protector of women, the punisher of cheating husbands.* She stands the regal protector of the family of watermelons blooming around her, the halves and quarters of the fruit looking like the phases of the moon.**
Hera (half) suggests many things. She mocks our modest efforts to decorate our gardens with mirrored balls or small figurines nestling amongst the perennials. Matelli's memento mori shows the decaying human ideal against the tantalizing richness of the sweet fruit, culture versus nature as both decompose.
Hera (half) reflects on our obsession with ancient Greek, but Matelli deconstructs our expectations of classical art. His Hera (half) is cast in gritty, granular gray cement, not carved in classical white Carrara marble. Cement was used extensively throughout the Roman empire, but has become the material most representative of our post-industrial urban landscape. And despite the passage of time, we still hold onto the idea of Gods and Goddesses—but in our century, it is celebrities and athletes that we worship.
Matelli choses his ancient figures because they represent decline of human strength, perhaps of empire. This work plays with our sense of history and the brevity of life, and the human drive to preserve and record the past. Matelli brings this ancient figure to the 21st century, asking us to reflect on the meanings of this juxtaposition in our contemporary language.
Notes. * https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/goddesses/hera/
** Watermelon has been linked to a wild fruit still growing in Egypt and Sudan; watermelon seeds were found in King Tutankhamun's tomb, and in Pharaonic hieroglyphs. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150821-watermelon-fruit-history-agriculture/
Tony Matelli, born in Chicago in 1971, and lives and works in New York. He received his BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 1993, and his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1995. Recent one-person exhibitions have been held at: Pilevneli Gallery, Istanbul; 500 Capp Street, San Francisco; the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; The Davis Museum, Wellesley College, Massachusetts; Stephanie Simons Contemporary, Knokke, Belgium, Bergen Kunstmuseum, Norway, Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm; ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark; Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin; the Selestat Bienniale, France; The Green Gallery, Milwaukee; the Uppsala Kunstmuseum, Sweden, Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery, Paris; the Centre d'Arte Santa Monica, Barcelona; and the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria, among others.
His works have been in group shows in: Athens, Georgia; Baku, Azerbaijan, Berlin; Bilbao, Spain; Brussels; Chicago; Copenhagen; Jerusalem; London; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; Monterrey, Mexico; Moscow; Munich, New York, Paris; Rüsselsheim and Tübingen, Germany; Rotterdam, The Netherlands; San Francisco; Stockholm; Toronto; Zürich, among many others.
Matelli's works have been collected by the ARKEN Museum of Modem Art, Ishøj, Denmark; the CCA Adratx, Majora, Spain; Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; The New Museum, New York; FRAC Bordeaux, France; Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Sweden; MUDAM Luxembourg; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa; State National Center of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Skive New Art Museum SNYK, Copenhagen; and the Uppsala Konstmuseum, Sweden, among others.