Untitled, found paper collage by Matt Gonzalez, 2011. Collection of Cynthia Popper.
ART EXHIBITIONS (selected) & REVIEWS
Incline Gallery, Greatest Hits, Volume 1, San Francisco (three-person show with Evan Holm & Gideon Chase)
Fecal Face Dot Gallery, Salt The Skies, San Francisco (group show)
Park Life, Things I Didn’t Know I Loved, San Francisco (solo show)
Smith Andersen Editions, The Hogarth Project, Palo Alto (group show)
Meridian Gallery, Regarding Configurations, San Francisco (two-person show with Dennis Parlante)
Guerrero Gallery, December Group Show, San Francisco (group show)
Fecal Face Dot Gallery, Winter Group Show, San Francisco (group show)
The Bold Italic, Bold Rush Los Angeles!, Los Angeles (group show)
The Graduate Theological Union, UC Berkeley, Art For Change, Berkeley (group show)
Jack Fischer Gallery, The Collage Show, San Francisco (group show)
Carl E. Smith Fine Arts, Slash/An Intl Survey of Contemporary Collage, Laguna Beach (group show)
Luggage Store Gallery, In The Moment, San Francisco (group show)
Guerrero Gallery, Building Context, San Francisco (group show)
B. Sakata Garo, Codices Urbanos, Sacramento (two-person show with Gustavo Ramos Rivera)
a.Muse Gallery, Scissors vs. Brush, San Francisco (two-person show with Tom Schultz)
Triple Base Gallery, Out of the Flat Files, San Francisco (group show)
Suite Five Salon, New Works, San Francisco (two-person show with Ben Irvine)
Smith Andersen Editions, Five From Folsom Street, Palo Alto (group show)
Lola, Mixed Media Collage, Berkeley (solo show)
111 Minna Gallery, The Novemberists, San Francisco (group show)
The Breakfast Group, For Every Passer-by, Berkeley (solo show)
In vitro Gallery, I Put It Back In Order For You, Chicago, IL (solo show)
Johansson Projects, Crossing the Delaware, Oakland (group show)
Soap Gallery, Pull Here to Get Everything You Want, San Francisco (solo show)
Art House, Before My Rushing Heart, McAllen, TX (group show)
Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, Let Her Make A Speech for Me, San Francisco (solo show)
Hayes Valley Art Market, Flood, San Francisco (three-person show with Felix Macnee & Paul Spencer)
Lincart Gallery, Walking in the Street, San Francisco (two-person show with Omar Chacon)
a.Muse Gallery, Waxwing & Kite, San Francisco (two-person show with Felix Macnee)
ART Panels, Lectures, & Discussions
John Halle, music composer and pianist & Matt Gonzalez, collage artist in conversation. Halle, a former New Haven Green Party Alderman and Yale Professor, spins tracks from his upcoming disc Outrages and Interludes soon to be released by Innova. Gonzalez, a former San Francisco Supervisor, joins Halle for a conversation on intersections, asymmetries and inevitable collisions resulting from attempts to combine the arts and politics, 12/29/13.
Talking Art: Snipping, Clipping, Pasting. Conversation with artists who use a variety of collage techniques in photomontage, printmaking, three-dimensional forms, and video art. Artist Panel: Val Britton, Matt Gonzalez, Robynn Smith, and Vanessa Wood. San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, 04/25/13.
Panel Discussion: Travis Somerville. Panel discussion coinciding with Travis Somerville’s solo exhibition A Great Cloud of Witnesses, moderated by Diana Daniels, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art at the Crocker Art Museum. Panelists include Travis Somerville, Matt Gonzalez, Chris Johnson, and Jeff Dauber. Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, 03/02/13.
Dennis Parlante & Matt Gonzalez in Conversation in conjunction with their opening “Regarding Configurations”. Discussing the practice, theory, concept, history, and materials of collage in a casual conversation. Meridian Gallery, San Francisco, 01/17/13.
Andrew Schoultz interviewed by Matt Gonzalez in conjunction with Schoultz’s opening “Fall Out” at Mark Moore Gallery, Los Angeles, 01/12/13.
“Art For Change”, Graduate Theological Union Library, curated by Nicholas Ukrainiec and made possible by the Jane Dillenberger Fine Arts Endowment Fund. The exhibition features prints, paintings, posters, and mixed media created to inspire or promote social, political, and economic change. Selections from the social justice collections of the GTU Archives are shown together with works by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Shephard Fairey, Matt Gonzalez, Joel Isaacson, Richard Kamler, Corita Kent, Earl Newman, Rigo, Lizabeth Eva Rossof, Favianna Rodriguez and others. A lecture by Matt Gonzalez, a San Francisco politician, attorney, and artist, takes place at the opening reception. The Graduate Theological Union, UC Berkeley, 03/15/12.
“Kurt Schwitters: Make Art with Matt Gonzalez” in conjunction with the exhibition “Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage”. Immediately preceding the collage making, Gonzalez will comment informally in the exhibition galleries about some of his favorite Schwitters pieces. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 08/14/11.
A panel on “Collecting Art, Curating Your Collection” with Whitney Chadwick PhD, Charles Campbell, Matt Gonzalez and Jeremy Stone at the West Coast Art Collectors Conference at the San Francisco Fine Art Fair, Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, 05/20/11.
“Rendering the Male Nude: Tradition or Provocation?” in conjunction with the exhibit “Theophilus Brown: Five Decades of Rendering the Male Nude” at the McAllen Art House. Theophilus Brown in conversation with Dr. Esteban Ortega Brown and Anthony Torres. Introductory remarks by Matt Gonzalez and María Elena Macías, Assistant Professor of Art, UTPA. Fine Arts Auditorium, University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, Texas, 04/30/09
Catharine Clark & Matt Gonzalez interview, Frank Prattle with Zefrey Throwell radio. Interview at the SF Arts Commission Gallery 03/01/08, aired 04/04/08.
Institute of Contemporary Art, London. “Figures of Speech USA”, a program inviting presentations on an object having personal significance by artist and gallerist Aaron Rose, media-art pioneer Lynn Hershman Leeson, SF Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker, NY magazine mogul Jack Rabid, surf entrepreneur Keir J Beadling and local politician Matt Gonzalez. October 2007.
SECA: Victory Gardens. Amy Franceschini, artist & Matt Gonzalez, former president, San Francisco Board of Supervisors in conversation. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Phyllis Wattis Theater, 02/15/07.
Art + Politics: Matt Gonzalez in conversation with photographer Michael Rauner. Bazaar Cafe, San Francisco, 07/03/06.
Art + Politics: Matt Gonzalez in conversation with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Bazaar Cafe, San Francisco, 06/05/06.
Art + Politics: Matt Gonzalez in conversation with painter Felix Macnee. Bazaar Cafe, San Francisco, 11/07/05.
“Art & Politics”, undergraduate course taught by guest lecturer Matt Gonzalez at the San Francisco Art Institute, 2004.
REVIEWS & ANNOUNCEMENTS
San Francisco Art Quarterly, July 16, 2013
Matt Gonzalez’s “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved” at Park Life, San Francisco
Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are normally cited as the originators of collage in modern art, a term deriving from the French “coller,” meaning “glue.” But it is the German artist Kurt Schwitters, who developed the technique as an essential working ingredient of the contemporary artist; one that allows for the fabric of everyday life to be woven into other more technical considerations. In conjunction with the 2011 exhibition of Schwitter’s “Color and Collage” exhibition, the Berkeley Art Museum asked Matt Gonzalez, politician and artist, to give a gallery talk and workshop on the medium, an inspired choice given that the art of collage and the realities of modern living are rightly intertwined in the creation of strung together bits and pieces of the real world.
In a city rife with hipsters, I would be pressed to name one with better credentials than Matt Gonzalez. This is a guy who grew up in McAllen, Texas, was educated at Columbia and Stanford Universities, landed in San Francisco, was elected to the Board of Supervisors (2000), eventually rising to the post of President of the Board of Supervisors (2003), coming this close to defeating Gavin Newsome for Mayor (2003), and becoming the running mate of Ralph Nader in a presidential bid (2008). All the while, he has shown in some of the most progressive galleries in The City, including Abobe Books (2007), Johansson Projects (2008), 111 Minna (2009), Triple Base (2010), Guerrero and Luggage Store galleries (2011), Fecal Face Dot Gallery (2012), and Meridian and Park Life in the current year. Makes me dizzy (and extremely unworthy by comparison).
His meld of politics and art has not gone unnoticed. He has taught a course on the subject at the San Francisco Art Institute (2004), conversed with Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the intersection of the two fields (2006), and took part in the group exhibition, “Art for Change,” at the Graduate Theological Union Library, UC Berkeley, featuring Ferlinghetti, Shepard Fairey, Rigo and others (2012).
All this has relevance in light of the current Park Life exhibition. Gonzalez cites several social concerns in presenting “the detritus found on the city streets,” including environmental waste and its disposal, capitalist commentary, and “cognitive liberty” in light of pervasive bombardment of consumer messaging. What other politician do you know, never mind an artist, who cites Russian Futurism and Zaum poetry, as an anecdote to “the battle over influence and forced ideas,” and uses collage as a “liberated reminder.”
The elegance of Gonzalez’s thought and phrasing is matched by the techniques in which his collages are manifested. Schwitters, sometimes politically naïve (the more radical Berlin Dadaists scorned his bourgeois lifestyle, causing him to formulate his own movement – Merz), was nevertheless in tune with the era’s changing currents of artistic experimentation, and became a devotee of Constructivism and De Stijl. There are hints that Gonzalez has trodden a similar path.
His collage technique is composed of a rigid adherence to abstraction stripped to the essentials of form and color, with attention given to primary colors, including black and white, in verticals and horizontals. A Guggenheim article on De Stijl cited on Wikipedia aptly describes Gonzalez’s similar approach. “It [DeStijl] was posited on the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetrically; the predominant use of pure primary colors with black and white; and the relationship between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective forms and lines.”
DeStijl also incorporated a component of utopian thought, which later influenced the Bauhaus artists, many of whom, including Josef Albers, came to the United States and exerted a profound influence on the course of American post-war art. Gonzalez follows in this tradition of Utopian vision coupled with a formulated abstraction resonating across various cultures through the use of universal essentials.
Favoring paper support with a thicker quality than newsprint, Gonzalez seeks out sturdier fare found in such everyday castaways as claim checks, cigar and cigarette packaging, tea bag labels, cereal boxes, film packaging, gallery invitations, ticket stubs, condom wrapping, playing cards, envelopes, matchbooks, candy wrappers, and other cast offs from the everyday. After their retrieval, they are grouped by primary colors, be it green, red, yellow or blue. Just as effective are the white and black collages bearing little textual identification and used solely for their surface qualities. In some ways, the non-textual black and white collages are the most satisfying, stressing as they do constructive and tactile qualities, as well as the artistic craftsmanship that has gone into the work.
Having established a firm working method in the construction of paper collage, Gonzalez has recently began constructing works in wood, following principles previously time proven – the use of primary colors in squares and rectangles. One of these works, “#6” (2013), is noticeably larger than the other paper collages in the show and points towards a future course of action. In a conversation with the artist, he hints at this newly found direction. “The wood pieces started last year. The idea was to take it to a larger format. I have a couple of panels home now, where I’m working bringing in canvas elements. So it’s wood and canvas on board. It’s going to allow me to paint the canvas and cut the canvas as if it’s paper. But I haven’t done that yet.”
It’s no wonder that Gonzalez is headed in a new direction. The existing paper collages have a decidedly mature feel to them, as if they have been explored of their possibilities, establishing the goals that the artist had for them in their infancy. He’s been at it for some time, and they are reaching a climax.
“I started in late 2005,” he related in our conversation. “I got serious in early 2006. I had experimented with painting, doing geometric abstraction. The idea being, if I push paint around, I’d have a better appreciation at looking at art, looking at paintings. In that process, I started adding found elements and cutting up the little paintings I was doing on paper…I probably worked a lot more spontaneously at first, now I’m more deliberative, so I make less of them, and they’re much more involved.
The Park Life exhibition is both a summing up and a hint of things to come, and there is amble evidence that Gonzalez’s plan of “pushing and pulling” the materials at hand has led to a greater appreciation of the creative process and its practical application in any number of mediums.
Kudos also to Park Life in the consistency of its artistic program bringing variety and the best The City has to offer to the Inner Richmond, a district sorely in need of additional showplaces to placate the influx of creatives swelling its shores.
This exhibition is open until July 28, 2013. Find some time to visit Park Life and visit the show and their store.
For more information visit here.
–John Held Jr.
Cultural Interventions, July 16, 2013
Matt Gonzalez @ Park Life Gallery
Things I Didn’t Know I Loved, an exhibition of twenty-three collages and one wood construction now at Park Life Gallery, features the current work of Matt Gonzalez.
The exhibition is anchored by the wood assemblage #6 (2013), painted in primary colors of white, yellow, black, blue, and red, and collages dominated by hues of black, white, green, blue, and yellow, with a few multi-colored offerings. The wood construction is the largest work in the exhibition, and serves as a “key” that alludes to the constructivist nature of the other works.
The wood assemblage seems emblematic of a shift in Gonzalez’s recent work, which announces a preoccupation with the exploration of aesthetic values grounded in primary color palettes displayed in much of the work. If #6, made of cut moldings and scrap wood, brings to mind the painting strategies of Mondrian, with its utilization of geometric grid-like ordering of the compositional elements and use of color, the recent collages suggest an overriding if less “pure” affinity with abstractionist interests in achieving formal harmony and order.
The move toward exploring spatial relationships within limited color fields suggests a concern with visual composition and an elemental emphasis on vertical and horizontal structures that informed geometrical abstraction. In many of the collages, the cut edges of the paper form straight lines, squares, and rectangles, in which the torn edges of paper function asymmetrically as formal counterpoints which, in combination with the predominant use of monochromatic colors, and especially in the white and black collages without text, constitute a critical area for the exploration of the relationship(s) between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective formal structures.
In Eye-bereft (2013), for example, a white-on-white collage, long rectangular pieces of paper of varying widths, positioned vertically, are predominant in the overall structure of the work. Thin-cut pieces of paper laid horizontally against the grain serve to conjoin and bind these elements as a means weaving the constituent fragments together. Integral and essential to the constellation of component parts is a triangulated form and elongated paper rails of varying shades of white, overlaid to delineate the rectangular compositional forms, which help to interrogate or play with the function and meaning of the color “white” within a self-contained dialoguedefined through the juxtaposition of contrasting elements.
Similarly, We Baled the Darkness Empty (2013), an all black-on-black collage without text, demonstrates an inclination for testing the formal possibilities in constructing objects of varying thicknesses, textures, sizes, and shapes of paper, within a field of relatively monochromatic hues of black, to explore orchestrated spatial relations.
Here, once again, we see a tension created by the interplay of horizontal and vertical “lines” formed from the cut/torn edges of paper that comprise the collage. The application of layers of paper of different widths, positioned in relation to each other, creates an axial variance that forms dynamic tension and movement within the composition. In general, the juxtaposition of shapes and shades of black generates a greater sense of depth in the overall structure, as the lines and colors are fused and subsumed within an ambiguously unified pictorial space.
That said, in most of the newer works on display there is a greater propensity towards utilization of text from product packaging. The increased use of printed materials and product logos as an integral formal element in the constructions is crucial in layering and demarcating distinctive areas compositionally, and perhaps more importantly, it grants greater accessibility to the work through recognizable artifacts, whose presence alludes to capitalism’s expansive commodification of art and daily life.
Here, the original utilitarian nature of the items and the symbolic social function of the congealed fragments — movie tickets, bus transfers, cigarettes packs, and other ephemera collected in the course of the artist’s everyday life — form a visual condensation of our contemporary existence, articulated by the unification of dislocated cultural particles through a practice ofselecting, collecting, and re-presenting the residues of everyday commodities, and a process of transmogrification of common significance.
As an aesthetic practice which re-configures fragments dislocated from their past life states as a means of transforming the nature of the material and formal significance of its use, the binding of the societal fragments in the collages speaks to a practice that suggests that these formal compositions have social histories that bring larger associations and memories of a culture defined by relations of commodity production, exchange, and distribution.
NY ARTS Magazine, March 15, 2013
Matt Gonzalez at Meridian Gallery, San Francisco
As part of a two-person exhibition at Meridian Gallery with collagist Dennis Parlante entitled “Regarding Configurations”, Matt Gonzalez has created works with both paper and found, wood objects. On view, congested layers of materials visually intersperse in both color and medium. Intricate layering of paper shapes rise up to form an actual shallow space that incorporates shadow and relief. The mystery of how each of these forms could possibly create a unified composition remains undisclosed. Gonzalez appears to rely on intuitive methods.
Gonzalez undermines his formal arrangements with a sense of play. Simultaneously, he brings in San Francisco’s visual culture through his use of locally found materials. The copy-cut-paste cycles that are incorporated into collage make his work not only a reflection of our time or place, but also a reflection of a personal culture that is unique to Gonzalez. He employs materials that have been scouted from the streets of his hometown San Francisco. A sense of identification arises upon viewing his series of collages in yellow containing textual information that point to the San Francisco MOMA, the Meridian Gallery, the Art Institute, the De Young Museum and to local businesses.
Not all of the collages contain text, however. There is a room donned with all-white compositions with titles such as Beauty, Paleness and Minima Moralia. These pieces essentially reflect Robert Ryman’s interest in whites and Louis Nevelson’s white wood works, such as Dawn’s Wedding Chapel IV. However, Gonzalez’s works function as small-nested paper pieces that are rectilinearly formatted in composition. The interplay of white upon white brings the viewer’s perceptions into tight focus with the use of subtle colorations that incite intrigue. The tonal qualities and brightness variations are masterful in their expression.
Another room filled with all black collages display titles such as November, Fresh and Cult of Beauty. The viewer is immersed into these miniaturized, intimate fields with multiple variants of black. The works containing text draw one in to examine typographical features. They become a reference and a marker of our visual culture, while concurrently creating them. Most edges are clean and crisply defined with geometric shapes coalescing into a grid. This is quite fitting, as the found paper pieces that flood the collage are from an urban setting.
The multiple small paper works hold their fragments tightly in the center at times. To differentiate, other collages spread across the entire page to create a nominal sense of boundarylessness. Are these avenues employed to create meaning or are they instead a meandering of experimentation—or are they both? The question remains unresolved.
Not all of the works in this exhibition are monochromatic. Small sets of multi-colored paper collages engage us near the entry—exhibiting bright blues, lime greens, yellows, oranges, reds and more. The exciting stimulation of color with various interactions is found within tiny, enclosed spaces. The synthesis of color and varying intensities are just another avenue Gonzalez explores. This is mirrored in a number of his wood collages, such as in the simply titled #2. Strips of colored wood present a grid-like framework that overlays collaged paper—this time with torn paper pieces. Organic meets mechanic in this particular all-over composition—a synthesis of disparate parts.
It will be of interest to follow future, formal explorations of Matt Gonzalez. His work is connected to artistic traditions of the past and future. Gonzalez makes collage a new and experimental medium, as he references visual culture and the identity of a specific place whether seen in found materials or layered typography. The formal approach he engages is endless, yet non-repetitive. Gonzalez is sure to continue producing surprising results.
MISSION LOC@L, Art Review, December 26, 2010
Matt Gonzalez at Triple Base Gallery
Triple Base Gallery on 24th Street recently unveiled its new artists in a flat-file project that allows a standing exhibit of hundreds of works on paper from 16 artists. The show ended December 19, but the pieces are still at the gallery in files.
Among some of the most interesting work presented was that of Matt Gonzalez, the progressive leader who shaped much of the political landscape in San Francisco from 2000 to 2004.
What has always been striking about Gonzalez — politically, socially and otherwise — has been his staunch refusal to separate art from life. As a small but significant measure of this impact, Gonzalez was the first elected official in San Francisco to open his office to artists to put on monthly art shows.
The practice he initiated of opening City Hall to art and artists — merging art and politics — has become so popular that it is now common for many officials to host art shows in their offices. This victory of non-separation represents a reappraisal of the political landscape that needs to grow.
With relatively little attention and a host of small successful gallery showings at Adobe Books, Lincart and Johansson Projects, Gonzalez has produced more than 500 intimate small-scale collages over the last six years. Many are in the spirit of Kurt Schwitters, using only found materials collected on his walks through the city or poached from invitations he receives by mail.
The works can be found on the walls of other artists, including two that he’s worked with, Bay Area figurative legend Theophilus Brown and the well-known Mexican painter Gustavo Ramos Rivera.
Gonzalez’s primary palette is stuff that other people throw away. The works themselves are meditations on value, meaning and social norms. As a body, the work recalls the Phillip K. Dick saying, “Divinity is found in the trash substratum.”
The visual impact and gravity of his work is such that Gonzalez should not be denied a second career as an artist, and may be remembered someday more in that vein rather than as a politician.
The work is composed of images and discarded packaging, the disambiguation of old meanings through minor resurrections of color, compositions and forays into textures and curiosity.
The innocence of many of the pieces is striking and noticeable, inviting the spectator to see something with new eyes — similar to the way a child might be fascinated by a color or an object it instinctively reaches out for on the sidewalk, only to have an adult quickly shoo it away to enforce the conceptual reality of what is “allowed.”
Gonzalez’s work reinvigorates this moment, but stops the hand of authority before it can get a complete stranglehold on our innate sense of wonder.
Gonzalez’s reappraisal of this moment and his willingness to pick up the forgotten, unseen and rejected is a meditation on compassion. It displays an intimacy with things other people don’t want to be reminded of, as if to say, “But look how great this is if you only get rid of your idea about it!” In this way the pieces are balanced by a sense of humor and the inherent questions that they pose about late capitalism, status and prescribed values.
Some of the pieces belong in the philosophical company of Asger Jorn and Guy Debord, two of the most famous members of the Situationist International, and possibly as a continuation of their famous critique “The Society of the Spectacle.”
The pieces are a playful critique of modern society and throwaway culture. Gonzalez pays attention to ideas and things left in the margins, and rescues them from oblivion and unconsciousness in such a way as to show us the ghost of modern living that lurks outside our doors.
Gonzalez goes further than Jorn and Debord when he appropriates the Situationist concept of the “Drift” — a deliberately poetic and uncalculated exploration of the city — and catalogues it by creating artifacts of experience, an archaeology of everyday life created from discarded images and messages that he juxtaposes into small works of art.
The perspective is one that might be welcomed in a zen tea house — getting rid of the concepts of the past by presenting them without the garbage of conditioned thinking.
One notes that Gonzalez’s work in every field has always retained a trace of the outsider. In some sense he has made a career of representing people without a voice.
WHITEHOT MAGAZINE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, October 2008
Matt Gonzalez @ In vitro Gallery
Matt Gonzalez’s focus on the construction of small-scale collages may, at first glance, seem modest and naïve. However, on closer scrutiny, the choice of collage as an aesthetic strategy is deceptive in its art historic familiarity, and is dense with art historical allusions conjured by collage as a technique.
The choice of collage resurrects Cubism’s formal disruptions of a tradition in Western painterly representation of spatial and symbolic fundamentals essential to the creation of an illusion of three-dimensionality on a two dimensional surface; a Dadaist transformation of debris from the street, through the juxtaposition of fragmented images, into a means of cultural intervention aimed at disrupting settled notions of art; and Surrealist aesthetic appropriations of popular and commercial sources to create incongruous visual mixtures that probed unconscious fears and desires, aesthetic pleasures, and irrational contemplation.
The invocation of these inherited aesthetic traditions through the use of collage operates subtly in Gonzalez’s work — formed from acts of selecting, collecting, manipulating, and re-presenting evidentiary residues of everyday commodities gleaned from a contemporary landscape — in the expression of the artist’s individual subjectivity, creating material condensations that speak to our societal interconnectedness via allusions to economic and social structures that bind us.
This cultural politics, referenced by a contemporary utilization of collage, speaks to a politics of representation — both then and now — through the use of images, texts, and aesthetic strategies drawn from an international reservoir of sources and signifying practices that reference the diverse histories that inform Gonzalez’s social being and consciousness, and thus his work.
Rather than making overt political statements that directly address social issues, Gonzalez’s visual condensations seem to be concerned with engaging, stimulating ideas, and triggering associations from diverse histories through the multiple interpretations that reverberate in the works. Indeed, with this work he seems less concerned with affecting consciousness for social transformation, or creating a feeling of solidarity centered in sympathetic issue identification, or reinforcing ideologies that separate or demarcate art from politics in contemporary life, than with constructing objects that affirm the notion that art and everyday life are connected and open to multiple interpretations.
Here, a simplistic separation and fragmentation of art from society, which tends to relegate politics in art to legible content and to reduce cultural politics to declarative messages that communicate to an already initiated sympathetic audience, is undermined in favor of recognizing that the construction of art is integrally related to the making of meaning through interpretive viewing — a politics of cultural representation that implicates the both the maker and the viewer in discursive entanglements connected to various histories and cultural discourses.
These works are heir to avant-garde traditions centered in subverting hierarchies in the arts that were anchored in social divisions of labor and the compartmentalization of knowledge related to the rise of capitalism, which established a distinction between “high” and “low” cultural practices. These avant-garde strategies critically re-examined the visual conventions, traditions, premises, rules, concepts of order, canonic standards of beauty, and codes of art that had previously structured and constituted what is “art,” by re-signifying and blurring distinctions between media to formally render the nature and significance of the materials and the objects constructed as fluid.
However, here the nature and symbolic function of the congealed fragments, such as tickets, candy wrappers, printed packaging, and other ephemera collected in the course of the artist’s everyday life, are used to form a visual allegory for one man’s contemporary existence — articulated by cohering dislocated cultural particles through a practice of material appropriation, recycling, and a process of transmutation of common materials — and by extension for peoples’ lives in general, and this is governed by exposures, constraints, personal choices, experiences, and efforts to transform and arrange life as one finds it, into a meaningful and coherent whole.
It does seem symbolically appropriate that, in an age characterized by a multinational concentration and consolidation of global capital, which creates a reified social universe defined by an all-encompassing social alienation where people are estranged from themselves, from each other, and from nature, we find an aesthetic practice that re-configures fragments dislocated from their original states as a means of commenting on the nature of material, visual and social identities, and on the relationships of our relative autonomy, coexistence and interdependence.
In this context, the exhibition title I Put It Back In Order For You is significant and telling, particularly as Matt Gonzalez, former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Ralph Nader’s current Vice-Presidential running-mate, is considered a politically progressive social activist.
The binding of the societal fragments speaks to a transformative social practice, particularly as these works are amalgams of something else, something with quite identifiable overtones that suggests that these collaged elements have histories that bring with them associations of the consumer commodity culture and its array of social forces and relations of production, consumption, and distribution.
Matt Gonzalez’s collages speak to our existence as people living together in a world comprised of these elements and their associated objects, a world that we must deal with in our various ways; and, hopefully, if we are to create a qualitatively different future, we work to construct a better space than the one we live in and inherited from the past.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, Review, November 21, 2007
“Let Her Make a Speech for Me”
Collage by Matt Gonzalez captures a moment in time
REVIEW The simultaneously ramshackle and polished qualities of the back-room gallery of Adobe Books seem particularly apropos for the current exhibit of collages by former head of the Board of Supervisors and 2003 mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez. The white walls of its small, finished gallery space rise only about halfway to the high ceilings of the bookstore, and traces of the building’s layered history — bits of cracking plaster and yellowing floral wallpaper, interspersed with wood beams and chicken wire — reveal an intrinsic assemblage. Gonzalez’s collages elevate detritus such as this to a more revered status, acknowledging not only its aesthetic worth but also its historical and social implications.
Just as in the unfinished walls of Adobe Books, there is an inherent beauty in these scraps of boxes and notes and bills that would otherwise have been discarded or overlooked. The textural quality of a dirtied receipt, the yellow crispness of a newspaper snippet, the gleam of a turquoise sliver of cardboard — the combination of all such items is nice. However, the act of placing these bits of so-called trash in jagged compositions is nothing new. The works bring to mind, most obviously, those of Dada artist Kurt Schwitters, whose collages, like Gonzalez’s, were created from materials culled from the city streets and daily life. As a rule, Schwitters’s art was apolitical, although each of his pieces couldn’t help but become a miniature capsule that preserved history as time elapsed. Similarly, Gonzalez’s collages capture a moment in San Francisco’s arts and culture scene, pointing to the trend of rough, street-inspired art. Unlike Schwitters’s, his work does not lack a political edge, and as the exhibit’s title, “Let Her Make a Speech for Me,” suggests, these collages are likely Gonzalez’s latest expressions of his interests.
ART LTD / WEST COAST ART + DESIGN, Reviews July 2007
Matt Gonzalez at LINCART
Here is the relevant information: In 2003, Matt Gonzalez was the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and at that time he also made an insurgent, under-funded run for mayor as a Green Party candidate, coming alarmingly close to winning the office. Soon thereafter, he returned to private life, no doubt contenting himself with the fact that many of his innovative political ideas found some implementation in the city’s new and forward-looking government. Now Gonzalez is back in the public eye, but not because of his political activities. Instead, he returns as a self-taught artist who makes intimate, witty and charming collage works, 25 of which are on view in this exhibition. The temptation to read these works as imaginary records of the process of a “picking up the pieces” that we might assume comes along with the retreat from public life is all but irresistible.
But resist we shall, because these works are far too accomplished to be constrained by such a mono-dimensional reading. Although they tend to be quite small, they are quite sophisticated in their evocation of the collage works of the Beat era, as well as the more canonical precedents established by collage artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Robert Motherwell. Which is to say that most of the works are earmarked by their elegance and restraint, as well as their focused attention to the aesthetic subtleties of color and shape relationship.
Each of these works is also enriched by the qualities of specific encounter, and many sport the date of their creation as parts of their composition, suggesting that they are singular entries into a cryptic diary. The components that Gonzalez uses from one piece to the next suggest that they are extracted from a specific walk through a given neighborhood. When we look at one of the larger works, titled Number 4 is Getting Buried (all works are from 2007), we see a diagonal composition of various paper fragments, including package typography, cigar bands and crumpled receipts—much the same stuff as would be found in one of Schwitters’ Merzpictures from the 1920s and ’30s. The difference lies in Gonzalez’s elegant lyricism, which gives his work a more introspective character. This attribute is particularly evident in one of the smallest works—a particularly spare composition titled Is That It? No bigger than a postcard, this work’s precise arrangement of a very few visual incidents proves that a big experience can come in a very small package.
—Mark Van Proyen
BERKELEY ART MUSEUM, Announcement, August 2011
Kurt Schwitters: Make Art with Matt Gonzalez
Offering a hands-on experience in conjunction with Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, BAM/PFA presents a series collage-making events with local artists throughout the run of the exhibition. We invite you to pick up a pair of scissors and join the collage table in the museum’s exciting Gallery B space. Materials provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own as well.
Our first guest artist in this series is Matt Gonzalez. Well known as a progressive politician who served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and as Ralph Nader’s 2008 vice-presidential running mate, Gonzalez is also an accomplished collage artist who has exhibited at numerous local venues; a recent review in the San Francisco Chronicle describes his work as “grid-like, woven geometric pieces incorporating found packaging, dappled with primary colors and riddled with frayed edges.” Gonzalez has an abiding interest in Schwitters, who, he asserts, is “important to anyone who takes up glue and scissors.”
Immediately preceding the collage making, Gonzalez will comment informally in the exhibition galleries about some of his favorite Schwitters pieces. Coming up in November and December: Make collages alongside guest artists William Theophilus Brown and Veronica de Jesus.
Workshop | Make Art with Matt Gonzalez | August 14 | 2-5 p.m. | Berkeley Art Museum
A.MUSE GALLERY, Announcement, April 2011
Scissors vs. Brush: Collage by Matt Gonzalez/Paintings by Tom Schultz
a.Muse welcomes politician and artist Matt Gonzalez and veteran painter Tom Schultz for a two man show honoring their friendship and the relationship between their art. A public reception for the artists will be held on Thursday, April 28th, 2011 from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. Musical performance by Charles Gonzalez & the Stereo Glitter. Admission is free. The exhibition runs through May 30th.
Although Gonzalez creates in paper and Schultz with paint, the small, intimate pieces featured in this show will highlight their similar use of hard edges and bold colors. While Schultz’s pieces have a bold, colorful geometric consistency, Gonzalez is as versed in color as he is in subtle shades of white, resourcefully using every bend and turn of his found objects to “draw” his curves and lines. In the end, this show is about the harmony created within a visual conversation between two old friends.
While Schultz’s pieces have a bold, colorful geometric consistency, Gonzalez is as versed in color as he is in subtle shades of white, resourcefully using every bend and turn of his found objects to “draw” his curves and lines. Paul Occam has said that “Gonzalez’s primary palette is stuff that other people throw away. The works themselves are meditations on value, meaning and social norms. They are composed of images and discarded packaging, the disambiguation of old meanings through minor resurrections of color, compositions and forays into textures and curiosity.”
Schultz approaches his work as a relationship–hard edges meeting more gestural images. This creates a dynamic tension, evoking a casual sensuality and simple elegance. “I believe the final impact of a work of art should be a felt experience;” says Schultz, “that is to say, an emotional one, without which it is nothing more than an intellectual exercise.” Schultz was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1939. Basically a self-taught artist, he studied privately with Charles Bunnell in Colorado in the 1950s. He arrived in New York in 1959, at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and met artists connected with the New York School of painting.
Gonzalez first showed at a.Muse in 2006 with friend and painter Felix Macnee. Since then, he has shown at numerous Bay Area galleries, including Lincart, the Backroom at Adobe Books, and Johansson Projects.
SUITE FIVE SALON, Announcement, November 2, 2010
New Works by Matt Gonzalez & Ben Irvine
About the art: the exhibition will feature Matt Gonzalez’s collages and Ben Irvine’s abstract folded-paper sculptures.
Gonzalez finds inspiration in recycling “cool little pieces of paper” he finds in cafes, at friends’ houses—anyway they appear. The works are small, intimate, inviting close viewing that reveals a wonderful sense of texture and structure. A primary influence is abstract painter Gustavo Rivera, who Gonzalez counts as friend and mentor. References, especially as regards color and composition, can be made to Piet Mondrian. Hints of Louise Nevelson are evident in his all-white and all-black works. One can also sees notes of cubism and Dadaism in the work.
Gonzalez’s lively pieces juxtapose nicely against Irvine’s clean, precise works. Like Gonzalez, Irvine is self taught, bringing a fresh naïveté and innovative approach to the work. This is especially true of Irvine. Each piece the artist creates is made of a single piece of pure white paper that is only folded, never torn, cut, or glued. The sculptures, while rooted in the tradition of Origami, are completely Irvine’s his own creation—the result of hours of trial and error—resulting in contemporary, innovative pieces. These sublime works lend themselves to long, peaceful contemplation. A recent high school graduate, Irvine is an incoming student at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2011.
Matt Gonzalez is co-founder of SF Collage Collective. For additional information about Ben Irvine and his work, visit benirvineart.com.
—Jenn Doyle Crane
ART BUSINESS, Review, April 5, 2008
Soap Gallery: Matt Gonzalez – Pull Here To Get Everything You Want.
Matt Gonzalez’s color-rich collages, set on white backgrounds, are composed of collected materials such as playing cards, fabric, cardboard boxes, and more. With titles like “The Hurrying There Along The Wall” and “In Somber Wonders The Music,” the viewer takes another look to see how Matt expresses these movements. They allude more to Cubism than Surrealism, as in a single collage, the images and colors seem to work with each other as opposed to providing contradiction or surprise.
ART BUSINESS, Review, July 28, 2013
Park Life: Matt Gonzalez – Things I Didn’t Know I Loved.
Matt Gonzalez collects all kinds of paper that we throw away– wrappers, product instructions, plain white sheets and more. He then sorts it out and reconfigures the results not only in terms of aesthetics, but also as opportunities for us all to reflect on our endless reflex acts of tossing stuff into the trash. Somehow the color coding renders the message all the more poignant, encouraging viewers to get up close and do a little reading.
SAN FRANCISCO WEEKLY, April 16, 2007
Torn cardboard and witty phrases are threads that run through the visual art of Matt Gonzalez. Yes, that Matt Gonzalez, whose riveting life as a Green Party-er and near-swiper of the Mayor’s Office has just now given way to a new chapter. Some might say that repurposed recyclables and sharp observations were hallmarks of his shoestring mayoral campaign — it’s safe to say he’s good at getting things done using his giant brain and whatever else is at hand. But the Georges Braque-inspired collage work he presents in this eponymous exhibition proves that his visual skills are right up there with his political ones. The pieces are delicate and colorful paste-ups of common street trash Gonzalez picks up himself, and he gives them names like “With the Throat of a Silver Vale.” Columbian painter Omar Chacon exhibits as well.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Galleries, August 27, 2011
Collage, culture and mulching at Guerrero Gallery
Collage has begun to look like 20th century artists’ decisive bequest
to the 21st. Not even kinetic media materialize so well our sense of
culture as mulching, of the world as unstoppable implosion and
disposal. The Kurt Schwitters retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum
and the de Young Museum’s Picasso survey take us to the roots of the
practice. But some exhibition of contemporary collage will almost
certainly appear on the local art calendar in any given month.
Guerrero Gallery’s “Building Context” offers an exceptional example.
Collage in Picasso’s and Schwitters’ hands grew out of painting and
relief sculpture, subversive play with representational tradition. The
artists in “Building Context” have no need to reassert the legitimacy
of their means. Adam Feibelman’s hand-cut stencils stitched together
at their edges count as collage every bit as much as Leigh Wells’ more
traditional cut-and-paste exercises. Feibelman’s intricate cutouts
have an abstract look at first, but their details gradually sort
themselves into images of water, vessels and shorelines. I have seen
nothing else quite like them.
Guerrero has arranged the seven represented artists’ works in its
space so that they read like a cluster of small solo shows. No one
benefits from this arrangement more than Wells. Her work requires the
breathing space it gets here because each piece appears to contain few
enough constructive decisions that they stand dramatically exposed.
She frequently works on pages that appear water-stained – whether by
her or by chance we cannot tell – and those subtle intrusions demand
Wells frequently uses bits of photographs chosen and cut so as to keep
us guessing what they describe: flesh, fabric, stone, metal, shadows?
Her framed pieces recall the belligerent aesthetics of early Dada and
Surrealist collage, but they wear their allusiveness lightly. One
untitled example incorporates stacked red squares that bring Russian
Suprematism to mind, abutted sideways to a mountainous shape that
recalls Man Ray’s 1920 “Enigma of Isidore Ducasse.”
Wells has set up a table in the gallery to display little
three-dimensional somethings in a Calderesque spirit. This move might
have stolen the thunder of her collages. Instead, it makes us see even
more clearly how well judged they are.
“Building Context” includes an ensemble of white-on-white
constructions by Matt Gonzalez, an artist known to dabble in politics.
But a couple of black-on-black pieces by him upstage them all for a
simple and obvious reason. The black coated paper he uses exposes a
white edge at every cut. The resulting tracery of fine white lines
gives these compositions the energetic circuitry the white-on-white
pieces generally lack.
Boris Tellegen takes up little space in “Building Context,” but his
relief constructions in cut, slotted paper seize the imagination
without warning through their evocation of cityscapes – either ruined
or idealized – seen from above. Ray Beldner lightens the tone of the
show and owns its topicality, in an editorial-cartoonish way, with
“Money Bags” made of sewn-together dollar bills. If nothing else,
these pieces dramatize the difference between the value of their raw
materials and the prices that their use and sale command.
A Guy Should Know, September 28, 2013
A Defiant Beauty: Matt Gonzalez’ Recent Work
In exhibitions at the Park Life and Meridian galleries this year, Matt Gonzalez’ art has evidenced a maturity that warrants a revaluation of his practice in light of his comments on record. Indeed, these new works possess an economy of means and a concise statement-like quality that viewers find newly satisfying, and that, taken together as an oeuvre, conserve a portion of our inherited tradition which seems worth putting into words. What is the background of this change that’s so surprising, but that strikes us as if it’s been in the works all along?
Having made significant theoretical contributions to our understanding of several issues in the area of jurisprudence – including an important and timely article on Eminent Domain – Gonzalez nevertheless has the percipience to agree with Percy Shelley that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the human race. He collaborated with his friend Jack Hirschman on a biographical sketch of the poet, who in turn wrote a poem called “The Matt Gonzalez Arcane.” He struck up a camaraderie with Jack Micheline, and when it came time to edit and publish 67 Poems for Downtrodden Saints, an important posthumous collection of his friend’s work, he expressed a balanced view of Micheline both as a person and as an author, writing of their working relationship: “Often I think Micheline disliked or criticized a poem merely because I expressed satisfaction with it,” meanwhile devotedly stating on the other hand that “Jack Micheline inspired people because he was not confined by social conventions. He was never embarrassed by the man he once had been.” Gonzalez’ own poems convey the sense of someone who occupies a unique position inside the agora where we all must stand if we want to address each other; the poems in his book The Violet Suitcase evoke an interplay and a contrast between perception and inspiration: “When I spoke to you, leaves were coming out of your mouth.”
As Gonzalez practices it, the art of collage implies an interesting perspective on political economy. He reminds us that the works of German collagist Kurt Schwitters represent “a reaction to the chaos and inhumanity of WWI.” In that conflict, a cabal of superpowers financed four years of trench warfare and outsourced the conscripts they needed to fight it: “‘Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments.’” Gonzalez’ art quietly invites us to recognize similar tendencies here and now. If you think of the contemporary USA as a source of chaos and inhumanity, the bits of paper that make up these collages start to look like more than mere refuse. Gonzalez often criticizes the foreign and domestic policies of the current American presidency, writing for example that “Since taking office in January 2005 [Obama] has voted to approve every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward, totaling over $300 billion…. And though he often cites his background as a civil rights lawyer, Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in July 2005, easily the worst attack on civil liberties in the last half-century.” When we see Gonzalez’ collages in this light, a certain disdain for the consumerist appurtenances of empire starts to reveal itself, and these discarded and ignored scraps that he has retrieved and trimmed and glued together take on a defiant beauty.
A Mexican current flows through Gonzalez’ work. His mother is a native of Jalisco, and his parents started an import/export medical equipment business in the US that primarily dealt with Mexican companies, and he spent much of his youth in the city of McAllen, Texas just nine miles north of the US-Mexican border. His cosmopolitan perspective on the present global financial crisis is particularly Mexican-American in character; he sees with unusual clarity the ways in which late capitalism positions modern nation states at various stages in the development of mechanized industry, and he sees this development in terms of Mexico’s recorded past. Gonzalez writes: “The Mexicans of the 19th century fought against what many developing nations face today – mounting debt and IMF / World Bank policies that constrain their ability to properly care for their citizens. As these countries struggle to make payments on debt, or just cover interest payments, their internal economic problems are exacerbated rather than relieved…. More than anything, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a developing nation’s resistance to the lending practices of wealthier foreign nations.” This Mexican current carries with it not only history but aesthetics as well; in a piece he wrote about the painter Gustavo Ramos Rivera, Gonzalez articulates by the way his own feeling for figuration, medium, palette and contrast – again non-provincial and openly international in its leanings: “Most art critics have noted Rivera’s Mexican or Latin American palette and place him in a lineage of painters whose work tries to approximate the Mexican landscape, meaning that it is dominated by bright primary colors, particularly reds and yellows. But Rivera’s abstract work also belongs to a tradition of Bay Area painting among artists … all of whom adhered to formal elements and whose use of color emphasized subtle contrasts.” An analogous system of fine gradation illuminates our experience when we view Gonzalez’ recent collages.
The pieces look rectilinear and monochromatic until you get close to them, and when you do, they’re anything but. The angles are slightly “off,” and the colors shade over into each other in ways that soothe the eye and invite the mind to repose. There’s no straining after antique effects, no finicky arrangements; instead everything has been cut and glued quickly and as-is, which gives the whole series an aura of immediacy in more senses than one. Additionally, each of these panels embodies an implicit critique of screen technologies and the bogus aesthetic they promulgate. Stand where you will on our planet at present, it seems as if representatives of the ultramodern clockwork psyche are sure to go traipsing into view sooner or later, arrayed in privilege and crammed with aggression, the jargon of Windows and Clouds and Streams ever on their lips, letting fall the byproducts of a collective Fuck You they’ve just delivered to the cosmos with a hot pout and a heavy sigh. Cleaning up after such morbid tendencies, while stationing itself over against them, Gonzalez’ collage work invokes our common antiquity by way of the art of the mosaic. It’s also important to note how this artist’s sensibility and sense of humor are on show in the textual dimension of the salvaged scraps. A collage is the picture of a philosophy, and when you read these pieces, you’re aware that the artist is communicating a peculiar preoccupation with enjoyment on one hand, and hygiene on the other. In a manner that could accurately be called “classical,” therefore, Gonzalez’ recent work reminds us of the Epicurean proposition that pleasure and ethics are as one.
Artworks require no justification but their own form, and in this they distinguish themselves from the remainder of human activity. Matt Gonzalez is an attorney, businessman and politician. Over the course of history, the presence of individuals who distinguish themselves both by worldly pursuits and by art has acted variously as a stimulant and an irritant in both realms of life; but despite the dismissive epithets that come on the heels of real achievement, these exceptional persons continue to grace their fellow human beings as examples that others from either world might well follow. On the strength of his new collage works, Gonzalez seems like just such an example.