A true Renaissance man, Matthew Day Jackson is a multidisciplinary artist who seems to have no limits. This is his most ambitious show to date, mixing technique and technology to mash up art, history, science and philosophy. Spread throughout Hauser & Wirth’s massive West 18th Street gallery, these 25 paintings, sculptures and drawings continue the artist’s bold experimentations with materials, as well as his investigation into American myth and identity.
Albert Bierstadt’s quintessential painting of the American West, Looking Down Yosemite Valley (1865), serves as the point of departure for Jackson’s equally monumental Looking Into Yosemite Valley, though Jackson swaps the luminous sky, glistening water and rugged terrain of Bierstadt’s imagining for rusted steel, lead and a marquetry of scorched wood. Burnt wood is Jackson’s signature element. Its intimations of death are employed here to good effect, depicting muscle tissue, the far side of the moon and an aerial view of atomic ruins on August 6, 1945, which turn out to belong to San Francisco instead of Hiroshima.
Three monumental sculptures, which Jackson created with the help of an iPhone app that transforms photos into 3-D models, add further heft to the show. The strangest piece, Magnificent Desolation, recasts Rodin’s bronze monument The Burghers of Calais as a group of astronauts stranded on the moon, rather than the original’s medieval figures awaiting execution. With such fresh takes on canonical imagery, Jackson constructs an alternative vision of art history that upends conventional approaches to allegory.—Paul Laster