In many ways, surrealist painter Roberto Matta was the catalyst for Thomas Monahan’s long career as a dealer. Monahan viewed Matta’s work for the first time at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the summer of 1969. In particular Monahan remembers staring at the artist’s monumental painting The Vertigo of Eros (1944), an imaginary landscape of floating shapes, swirling and bursting lines, and pools of color that Matta describes as an “inscape” – a projection of his inner psyche. Being an artist himself who was working with wire, string, and paper mache, Monahan saw that Matta was an obvious master of composition and sculpting painterly space, so to speak, noting that The Vertigo of Eros “gave me a haunting sense of being lost inside myself,” and that “here was a true master of using space in the canvas, in a way reinventing space into an ever-changing landscape that penetrates deep into the human experience.”
A few weeks after this encounter, Monahan left New York to begin his studies at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Matta, however, was still front and center in Monahan’s thoughts, as it was a solo exhibition of the artist’s works that christened Monahan’s first gallery space in Milwaukee in 1977, Thomas Monahan Fine Art. Matta’s exhibition was closely followed by shows of Paul Jenkin’s and Karl Hagedorn’s work, before moving operations to Chicago in 1982.
Perhaps one of Monahan’s most lasting achievements came in 1997, when he organized a sweeping survey of Matta’s works, “Matta: Surrealism and Beyond,” at the Haggerty Museum of Art. By that point in time Monahan had ready access to over two hundred of Matta’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures; supplemented by works on loan, the exhibition was a great success, and later traveled to venues in Mexico and Argentina.
Nearly four decades later, Thomas Monahan Fine Art continues to this day, presenting a mix of more historicized artists and those who are still living; acclaimed exhibitions include work by Matta, Joan Miro, Karel Appel, Alexander Calder, Peter Saul, Wilfredo Lam, and Valerio Adami, among others.
Thomas Monahan in his gallery in Chicago
photo © Daniel Peter, 2014