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Matthew Tierney’s Three-Act Exhibition, “Empires Fall | The Dance Goes On”

Captured motion gives way to concentrated emotion, at NYC’s Bryant Toth Fine Art

Even before entering Bryant Toth Fine Art, one can witness the power of color that’s been restrained, precisely framed and hung just beyond the glass. The works, by artist Matthew Tierney, capture dancers in a position of movement, and allude to movements of the past and future. Tierney’s exhibition,

Empires Fall | The Dance Goes On,” sits at many intersections: politics and dance, paint and pixel, anonymity and exposure. Tierney has assembled three acts across two rooms, with the narrative structure announced by friend and writer Zachary Hyatt’s text upon entry. Tierney’s install is as precise as the works themselves and while there’s the aforementioned guidance, everything is up for interpretation.

16 of the works on site (comprising all but one of the works in the first room) were drawn from Tierney’s “dancer” series. They have their own type of precision. “We wanted hyper-precision [for the install] because all of the pieces are precise. Essentially, in the art, we’re playing with individual pixels—it’s paint and pixel, it’s a mix of digital and painting,” Tierney explains during our walk through. “We wanted the show to be hung as mathematically perfect as possible while creating a narrative structure that ties in with the pieces.” Entering the gallery means entering the first act. “You’re within the dance. You move within the dance,” he adds. This is, until viewers reach a piece with the word “Eunoia” painted upon it. It’s ancient Greek and translates to cultivated good will. In a way it announces act two. When look at another way, it’s a piece of punctuation.

Act two—or room two—begins with color, a “hot spot” as Tierney calls it. “This is where we begin to engage with a fallen, or falling empire,” he continues. The room centers around a sculpture of a severed hand clutching a bolt. A penny rests atop it, perhaps referencing the price of the ferryman over the River Styx. Text-based paintings wrap around the walls. There’s a brevity to them, from rapid brushstrokes to the sharpness of each word. They feel concentrated but allow guests to derive as much or as little meaning as they want. Most notable is “dieback,” which means the act of when a tree begins to die, and how it dies from the tip of the leaves first and then down to the roots. This room delivers the exhibition’s weight—though allows for an empire to be that of a nation or of a self or even of a gender. Two final pieces can be found here, one hidden in the space and one hiding part of the space.

Tierney explains that act three is the return through or the continued movement back to room one and out. There is a severity to the exhibition altogether, but this can be ignored to enjoy the visuals solely. Color (and the lack there of) defines the aesthetic experience. And the figures of dancers, they’re obstructed just as much as they’re embodied. Tierney has been producing these works for years but the concept began to take shape even further back in time. “I looked at a notebook that was started at the end of 2010—dancers hung precisely with text,” he says. And really, that’s just the start of it.

“Empires Fall | The Dance Goes On” runs 19-29 October at Bryant Toth Fine Art, 195 Chrystie St, NYC. Tierney and the gallery will host several events on site, including a drag performance, fashion show and discussion hosted by D’Angelo Lacy, and a trailer screening of Camille Thoman’s film “Never Here,” and a play-reading honoring the late Sam Shepard.

Images by Sam Wallander


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