This is Wood: The Sculpture of Matt Johnson

On view at 303 Gallery in New York, artist Matt Johnson presents 4 cardboard boxes, 5 rolls of painters tape, 2 broken styrofoam chunks, and more garbage… that are all 100% carved and painted wood.

Installation view, Matt Johnson “Wood Sculpture” at 303 Gallery

Installation view, Matt Johnson “Wood Sculpture” at 303 Gallery

It’s perfection in replication: every wave of corrugation in the cardboard and every tiny pellet that makes up the styrofoam, had to be carved. The play on gravity is mind-boggling – while foam and cardboard appear as weightless as their original counterparts, the concrete bags at center stage look every bit as heavy as their 60 lb originals.

Untitled (3M box), 2016

Untitled (Balancing Styrofoam Corner), 2016

Untitled (Balancing Styrofoam Corner), 2016 (detail)

Just a reminder, that all of this is wood.

Two Bags of Concrete (One on Top of the Other), 2016

The show is dryly titled “Wood Sculpture”, written clearly at the entrance. The gold standard was met on my first visit, when 2 women who had been in the gallery for over 5 minutes finally approached the front desk to ask where the wood sculptures were.

Untitled (Amazon Box), 2016

Untitled (Amazon Box), 2016 (detail)

In my view, “material mimicry/translation”, whether in photo-real paintings or a cardboard box made from wood, is much more than a joke or an artist showing off (though seriously, #props) – for me, it’s all about examination. The insane degree that Johnson had to study EVERY detail of these mundane objects is obvious and incredible, but to view them is to judge their accuracy, and in doing so to discover new unnoticed details of an Amazon box, or the inside of a tape roll, or the particular way that Styrofoam breaks. In short: since exiting this show, I’ve noticed every crushed cardboard box on the sidewalk.

Untitled (4 Stacked Tape Rolls), 2016

Untitled (4 Stacked Tape Rolls), 2016 (detail)

The collection also includes 2 “honest” wood sculptures (they’re not trying to be another material), but are no less impressive. Twisted Pallet (below), looks to be caught in mid-dance, again demanding study and appreciation of the common object it represents.

Twisted Pallet, 2016

Note: The photo above was NOT staged. I just noticed it. Go check out the show to be amazed by incredible sculpture, and then be that weirdo blocking traffic while you photograph a broken cardboard box.

What: Matt Johnson “Wood Sculpture”
Where: 303 Gallery, 555 W 21st St, New York, NY
When: January 12 – February 25, 2017

BONUS: Matt Johnson also has a sculpture on the High Line Park – a beautiful bent piece of train rail (made from metal) just south of 13th Street up on the High Line.

All images © Matt Johnson, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York
(details & outdoor image by the author, David Behringer)

David Behringer visits over 200 galleries every month to uncover and share the most exciting contemporary art in New York today. Subscribe to his exclusive weekly newsletter at and learn about his private gallery tours. And be sure to check out his YouTube.