The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2012

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APR 2012 Issue

LIONEL MAUNZ Receipt of Malice


Dear Lionel,

Lionel Manuz, “Receipt of Malice,” 2012. Wood, latex paint, enamel paint, plexiglass, aluminum, foam, aquaresin, polyurethane rubber, polyurethane resin, epoxy, minerals, soil, canvas, tar, gravel, clay, epoxy clay, pewter, copper, hair, semen, sulphur, bone, glass. 58 x 48 x 94”. Courtesy of Bureau Gallery.
On View
Bureau Gallery
March 3 – April 15, 2012
New York

I visited your exhibition at Bureau Gallery a few weeks ago knowing very little about you or your work. I feel like I know you much better now, which is perhaps unsurprising given the autobiographical character of your sculpture. You’ll appreciate the fortuitous timing of my visit: March 15. The kind girl watching over your central piece, “Receipt of Malice” (2012), informed me that March 15 was the day of the apocalypse that was predicted by the prophet of the cult you lived with as a young teen. I had just jotted down a first impression when she shared that anecdote, one word: sarcophagus. It made me wonder whether you feel like some part of you did actually perish back then, and if something new came to life or maybe still is coming to life, finding expression through your artwork.

I spent quite a while with “Receipt of Malice”: it has the symbol-driven density of a personal mythology made manifest. I imagine your work probably gets compared to that of Matthew Day Jackson and Matthew Barney a lot, which is fair, though I think your sculptures and drawings are much darker, more like gothic shrines.

“Receipt” has three levels and, perhaps fittingly, I had to kneel to get a good look at the lowest tier. The forms on the periphery registered as a kind of topographical representation and so I assumed that the chain of boxy shapes occupying the central (or spinal) axis were dwellings of some kind. That they were modeled after the underground bunkers you lived in with the cult gave rise to thoughts of buried things, of cavities or depressions in the earth, hollow spaces and voids, but also of survival shelters—tombs for the living, perhaps.

The resinous middle layer expanded upon these impressions; for one, it looks like something in a coffin. While the object encased in the vitrine didn’t model a body I recognized, it nonetheless seemed to symbolize one. I understand you refer to it as the “geological body,” which I find interesting because its central feature seems to be sunken spaces; the sort of pockets and pits one expects to see in a mother mold. It gave me a feeling of absence, but also of rejuvenation, giving new purpose, value, and meaning to a part of the sculptural process that is traditionally utilitarian. I think of the geological body as Earth itself, a mother in certain mythologies, but also that body into which we bore for energy as well as deposit our dead. The prospect of burying Earth has so many connotations that it pushes the limits of what my imagination can fathom.

I found the objects you placed on top of the vitrine particularly recondite. The twin staffs, the series of rings, the tied bundle of chord, the obelisks, the bits of gravel, bone, and clay—are these ceremonial instruments of some kind? I understand the obelisks are composed of semen and hair from your own body, and I think I spotted a cast of your mouth, a most personal cavity. On one hand I surmised these elements corresponded to the biological body, though they also strike me as components that might be needed for casting spells. Whatever they are, painting them black gives them an ominous presence.

There is nothing outlandishly violent or graphic to this work, but the title you gave it certainly shades the sculpture in hues of rancor and enmity. Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic and too literal, but a receipt of malice seems like it could be a wound. Have you ever read Jean Genet? He wrote crushingly poetic prose on the wound as the womb from which art emerges. Let me quote a line from his text on Giacometti:

There is no other origin for beauty than the wound, which is distinctive and different for every person, hidden or visible, which that person protects and preserves, and disappears into when they want to leave the world for a temporary but profound solitude.” Observing Barney’s or Jackson’s work never gave me the impression of a human withdrawing into solitude—probably because there is simply too much collaboration in the their production processes—but your work does so in a powerful way.

The four sculptures and the drawings in the gallery’s annex reinforced this feeling of objects built in solitude. It fascinates me to see how images and symbols coalesce in your drawings, which are expertly done, but I’m more intrigued by how these dark graphite compositions function in your working process. They are too complete to be mere sketches and there are no direct sculptural translations. They possess an inherent sense of discovery and spontaneity—not unlike the sculptures—that leads me to believe you’ve tested numerous combinations before settling, precisely, on the juxtapositions you’ve created. There is as much intuition as deliberation in such a process, as much a sense of feeling your way along as thinking things through.

I understand you have a studio in Brooklyn. I’m in the borough all the time; perhaps we can arrange a meeting? I’d gladly welcome an opportunity to speak with you about your work in greater depth. I feel I’ve only begun scratching the surface.




The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2012

All Issues