Glass and Glitter: Matthew Monahan at the Contemporary Art Gallery

by Jen Huang

Matthew Monahan, Installation View, Contemporary Art Gallery, photo: Scott MasseyMatthew Monahan,  Installation view, (2012), Contemporary Art Gallery, photo: Scott Massey (

Matthew Monahan’s solo show at the Contemporary Art Gallery is an accumulation of his past eight years of work. Upon entering one of the galleries, I approached  Datong (2005-2007): a large, rough, wooden figure covered by a glass sheet. Its facial features and use of glitter are an example of Monahan’s attempt at taking an abstract concept and “gradually layering it with skins, stuffing it with organs, [and] sprinkling magic powders on it to make it come alive.” It can be assumed that in Monahan’s art the “magic powders” at work are the occasional appearance of glitter: the magic powder giving life. Matthew Monahan’s works feel like a balancing act between two mediums, with the incorporation of image into sculpture-like forms. Surrounding Datong (2005-2007) are pieces made with materials such as polyurethane foam, glass, and bronze. Pairing materials seen as “constantly permeable” with hardened surfaces like glass was an effort, Monahan explains, of exploring the reversal from figuration, abstraction, and conceptualism within the walls of an exhibition.

As I advance through the room, I see bronze figures with missing arms, and bodies covered in rough metal edges, which at first I assumed to be in a state of forced incompletion, only to learn they are instead an emphasis of the parts. As Monahan describes, it is the “over perception of structure,” and much like the remains of destruction, a perceived structure then becomes “totally deprived of force.” Monahan’s structures with only one arm are the reflection of his own body as the draftsman, a left-handed individual whose creations depend so heavily on the part rather than the whole.

Matthew Monahan, Squint Spirits, detail (2009), Collection Arlene Goldman and George Hartman, Courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art and Anton Kern Gallery

In Squint Spirits (2009) Monahan uses charcoal drawings with polyurethane foam and glass which, according to Monahan, is the hardened plane that brings the piece into the exhibition space. Walking up to Squint Spirits (2009), the addition of a new aspect becomes apparent; like a moment caught between dimensions, the piece is given a sense of life through its various angles. The figures that appear within the works become the faces of Monahan’s work, or as he puts it, his “iconography.” The faces appear lost, unsettled, or blank and are derived from his imagination, coming to be the elements of his own created world. Monahan expresses a desire to use materials that are soft, “absorbent,” and “easily wounded” to show the very basic form of their matter.

The use of these materials creates a sense of constant formation, which he then finalizes with materials like glass and bronze, a hard edge to contrast with the soft and changing form. It can be seen in works like Seeing Brightly (Attended by the dim) (2006), where the soft foam material is set with drywall and glass, seemingly containing the figures in an unchangeable state.

When using paper, Monahan plays with “real shadows” and “fake shadows,” making the paper curve and fold to create new facets not otherwise attainable as a flat sheet. The prints on paper echo a slightly different feeling. With angular shapes and features, Monahan’s origami prints exude a mechanized and armored quality. The warrior-like contours and large size give the feeling of importance and significance. The printed pieces feel worthy of a closer look as its faded nature gives a feeling of mysticism.

Matthew Monahan, Installationo view (2012), Contemporary Art Gallery, photo: Scott MasseyMatthew Monahan,  Installation view, (2012), Contemporary Art Gallery, photo: Scott Massey (

Monahan’s exhibition invites us into a realm of uncertainty. Each piece is not aggressive but alluring, with the physical arrangement of the works inviting an inspection of the content. Since Monahan’s works can be taken as artifact-like objects from a distant place, it’s not a far stretch to say they are possibly the artifacts of his mind.

The faces that become his iconography are the representations of various ideas and thoughts come to life with a bit of glass and a touch of glitter.

Matthew Monahan can be seen at the Contemporary Art Gallery until July 1. Consult the Gallery’s website for details.

Watch Matthew Monahan discusses his work and the exhibition here (Matthew Monahan. 2012. Video. Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. Web. 22 Jun 2012.)


4 responses to “Glass and Glitter: Matthew Monahan at the Contemporary Art Gallery

  1. I actually Think that blog, “Glass and Glitter: Matthew Monahan at the Contemporary Art
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  2. Just what exactly genuinely motivated u to publish “Glass and Glitter: Matthew Monahan at the Contemporary Art
    Gallery | Satellite Gallery Blog”? I reallyhonestly loved the blog post!
    Many thanks -Randall

    • Hi Randall, thanks for the kind words. Satellite Gallery encourages our bloggers to explore the city of Vancouver by writing about different cultural events. Matthew Monahan’s exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery was one of those must-see shows that motivated us to write about it.

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