Matthew Monahan



Not on display

Matthew Monahan born 1972
Glass, wood, charcoal on paper, pigments, wax and foam
Object: 2200 × 480 × 480 mm
Purchased using funds provided by the 2005 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2006


This large, vertically oriented sculpture by the American artist Matthew Monahan consists of three main sections, each containing one or more objects. In the lowest compartment is a large charcoal drawing of a woman’s face, which is squeezed into and fills the space. Above this, and separated from the drawing by a piece of glass, is another compartment containing three figurative sculptural objects: one consisting of a pair of legs and a lower abdomen, and alongside it two smaller, bust-like forms. These objects have been cast in wax and covered with a finely ground powder in a green hue. The smallest vitrine stands separate atop the display and encloses a hollow wax torso. Next to this are placed a wax head, also covered in a green powder, and a smaller head, which stands on three wooden sticks. These compartments and objects are displayed on a narrow plinth.

Untitled was made in 2005 in Monahan’s studio in Los Angeles, California. The three glass vitrines are stacked on top of each other, but they are not secured together in any way and the glass panels are assembled unevenly and sealed with silicon. The work’s title reveals little about its meaning, yet its display-like form suggests that it should be viewed in-the-round in the manner of a museum vitrine.

The composition of Untitled bears close resemblance to the cabinet of curiosities – encyclopaedic collections of uncategorised objects that were popular in Renaissance Europe. As was common in the cabinet of curiosities, here objects of varying types, sizes and origins are displayed in close proximity for inspection. This comparison is particularly relevant given that Monahan’s installations of this kind involve the excavation and recycling of earlier examples of his own work. Disparate fragments of previous sculptures are assembled by Monahan in pseudo-museological displays in multi-tiered and compartmentalised glass vitrines, with some of the accumulated elements in such displays dating back to as early as 1994.

Monahan produced several such works in 2005, all of which present a collection of objects in glass vitrines and are similar to one another in their appearance and construction (see, for example, Blood for Oil 2005, Saatchi Collection, London). There is some repetition of motifs across these installations, and within Monahan’s work more broadly, the most notable being the recurrence of the charcoal drawing of a female face, which can also be found in artworks by Monahan from the 1990s.

In a 2005 publicity statement for his solo exhibition at the Anton Kern Gallery, New York, Monahan wrote of these displays that ‘the work is not a postmodern selection of references to be decoded, but a bodily expulsion of influence and impulse performed in the act of making’ (quoted in ‘Matthew Monahan’, press release, Anton Kern Gallery, New York, 3 June 2005,, accessed 29 April 2015). The art critic Elizabeth Schambelan has argued that this emphasis on creative instinct is one that characterises Monahan’s work as a whole:

What is being marshalled and contained … are the abject effusions and unreconstructed energies of the creative process itself. The essential tension in Monahan’s work – the artist qua artist, a sort of sauvage or visionary outsider, versus a cooler customer given to a more analytical turn of mind – is acted out in his ‘excavation’, or evisceration, of his own workspace, which is a recurring feature of his practice.
(Schambelan 2005, p.265.)

Further reading
Elizabeth Schambelan, ‘Matthew Monahan’, Artforum International, vol.44, no.2, October 2005, pp.264–5.
Maurizio Cattelan, ‘Matthew Monahan’, Flash Art, vol.41, no.259, March/April 2008, pp.102–5.

Louise Hughes
April 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

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