Art Review

Art Review: Matt Scobey Presents Concrete Ideas at Leon Gallery

Matt Scobey has been part of the Denver scene for ten years, but he has never had a higher profile than he does right now. That’s partly because his “Talavera Bolsa,” a crumbling partial floor made of concrete tiles, was the only unalloyed success in last summer’s otherwise disappointing Vis-à-Vis exhibit, a part of Denver’s Biennial of the Americas. The title is a nod to the famous Talavera pottery of Mexico, while “bolsa,” which means “bag” in Spanish, refers to the molds Scobey used: plastic bags he found littering the streets of Mexico City. Thus he managed to combine the highs and lows of Mexican culture — its art history and its pollution — in a single piece.

Hard on the heels of Vis-à-Vis comes an impressive Scobey solo, The Essence, at Leon Gallery, and once again, the artist is playing with art history and detritus — though in different ways. The show is made up of chaste post-minimal boxes and vaguely brutalist totemic stiles, with everything made of concrete.

The boxes, from Scobey’s “Vibe Transmitter” series, comprise three parts: the box itself; a sheet of colored acrylic on top, from which light shines; and the top. They have been placed on natural-wood stands of various heights, and they have a slightly rough-hewn look. They’re great, and if the show had been limited to just these “Vibe Transmitters,” it would have been credible.

But Scobey’s freestanding stiles are even better. To make them, he stacked separate cast-concrete elements in vertical piles. He then used a hidden spine to hold the parts together. Some of these works, like the pair from his “Readymade Form Stack,” employ cast-concrete versions of random things that Scobey finds in alleys, like empty soda bottles, cut-up basketballs and other types of refuse.

The best of the stiles, though, are four that are much simpler and employ the use of conventionalized forms — things like cylinders, cones, solid rectangles and the like. Because Scobey uses geometric shapes instead of random ones, the results are much more refined and more completely non-objective.

I thought the three “Rigden Kings” sculptures were simultaneously marvelous, elegant and scruffy. The most resolved piece, however, is clearly “Brancusi Baby” (pictured). The title is a reference to Constantin Brancusi, an avant-garde artist from the early twentieth century. In this piece, Scobey — with extreme economy, using only a trio of truncated cones — reconciles Brancusi’s famous “Bird in Space” sculptures with his equally renowned “Endless Column.” “Brancusi Baby” is the anchor of this show and its greatest work.

The Essence is set to close Saturday, September 26 at Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue. For information, call 303-832-1599 or go to
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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia