Saturday, November 28, 2009

Matthew Ritchie Present at MCASD

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Matthew Ritchie spoke at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla last week. The talk was worth it (I love when talks are worth it). Ritchie had a refreshing sense of humor, almost making a joke out of the the very complex matters that were the subject of his talk. He'd whiz concepts and visuals past the audience without a hope of anyone actually grasping what was being talked about, giving them two or three seconds to soak in some graph the complexity of which would probably merit weeks to decipher. Above the comical effect that that had, I'd venture to say it was an intentional component of his lecture, as if Ritchie was making a round about claim that we are just not capable of understanding certain things. Those incomprehensible things became the very subject of his talk, as they are the objects of his art.

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His work does not, for the most part, jump out at me (other than when it literally jumps out into the space). I like the play back and forth between 2 and 3 D. Even though he called himself a painter, his most notable pieces are more routinely site specific installations that draw just as heavily from science as they do from anything else. The works are not gut works; they are the product of hours upon hours of heady deliberation, at times with Princeton physicists, at times experimental musicians, always with himself.

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Ritchie has a solid grasp on the historical context in which he works, and his talk traced a time line that dedicated as much time to Einstein as it did Duchamp. It was informative and even fun to here him go through historic details that most everyone in the room already knew. Somehow it did not feel redundant, and that newness of old things moreover validated his attempt to comment on history in a new way through his art. Tracing an historical time line was all too appropriate in his talk because time itself is a paramount theme throughout all of Ritchie's work, and he had some thoughtful things to say on the subject. My impression was that he was focused on the past as something of his intellectual inheritance and on the future as a potent yet contrived new frontier. Had I asked a question, it would have been about the present. On the one hand, without thinking about it, the present is the most familiar or "knowable" stage of time for us. It is not susceptible to memory defects, nor do we have to divine it. It makes a certain sense to say that we are constantly situated in the present. On the other hand, if we push the concept of the present, it is difficult to see how it exists at all, other than as a concept. No sooner do moments occur than do they pass us by, and pinpointing the occurrence of a moment is quickly seen as impossible because of the reliable movement of time. You say a word, breath a breath, think a thought, and immediately those functions become nothing but registers of the past, filed away in memory. In this way we face the past, and Ritchie was making claims about the predictability of the future. I would have asked Ritchie if he thinks the present is the most abstract stage of time, if he thinks it could be proven to exist other than theoretically, and what, if any, are the implications of this inquiry for his art practice.

Perhaps my favorite image off his website. I like the palette and what feels to me to be the more organic approach. Image from

For better or worse, I felt far more connected to his work after hearing him talk. I would not now be able to pass one of his pieces without taking a closer look. In front of his work, I would think back to his talk (I wonder if he would like that). And anyway, I am a sucker for fractals.

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[Oh lest I forget, I must admit that I am roundly jealous of his collaboration with one of my idols Kim Deal (and her sister Kelly) on an installation. He closed with a clip from this.]

Learn more about Matthew Ritchie at He has a show up at Chelsea's Andrea Rosen for another couple of days (until December 2), if you are in New York please go see it and let me know what you think.

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