Matthew Ritchie’s first New York solo show in four years, opening September 21 at the newly renovated Andrea Rosen Gallery, uses painting, sculpture, and animations to evoke a post-catastrophic urban landscape—one with an uncanny resemblance to the West Side. The artist, whose previous work used the language of abstract art to explore even more abstract theories of physics, took a break from installation to tell Karen Rosenberg about the inspiration for his new project.
The show opens with a quote from the prophet Ezekiel. It’s a visionary rant; he talks about the destruction of Israel, Lebanon, and Egypt. He’s writing it from Babylon, which is actually Baghdad. There’s an eerie echo— you realize the politics of our time have been going on for thousands of years. One of the funny things about Ezekiel’s prophecy is that you can’t really follow if he’s talking about the past or the future.
You come into the gallery and you’re underneath this three-ton sculpture, which seems to be floating from the ceiling. It looks very heavy from some angles, but from others it’s almost ethereal. It’s cantilevered over a 40-foot-wide light box. Behind that there’s a concealed staircase. You can walk out on the catwalk into the middle of the piece, where there’s an interactive film that projects a tour of an imaginary, flooded city. I live right on he Hudson River, and it feels very much like the old abandoned piers around 59th Street—that huge old pier that’s a big mass of twisted iron.
The show is called “The Universal Adversary,” which is what the U.S. government decided to call every bad thing. They have this list of fifteen scenarios that includes floods and biohazard, nuclear war … Everyone’s always interested in the big explosion at the end of the movie. This is about what it’s like after that. It’s about looking at the near future from the even more distant future—about creating a kind of distance from our immediate fear.