Prof. Matthew Borgen Explores Reality Through Fantasy in Two New Exhibitions

By Farrah Bradley | April 3, 2017

Exhibitions Coordinator and Prof. Matthew Borgen’s recent digital prints are being featured in two solo exhibitions during the spring 2017 semester. The first, Cities in the Sky, is currently on display at the Barbara Crawford Gallery on the campus of the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy through April 14, 2017. The second, Comic Spatial Analysis, will be presented at The Center for Contemporary Art located in Bedminster, New Jersey from March 23 to June 10, 2017.

The works in both exhibitions feature Prof. Borgen’s use of appropriated and re-contextualized imagery from comic books dating from the 1930s through the 1950s. The two shows reveal how he is utilizing this imagery in a variety of ways to discuss a broad range of subject matter. Prof. Borgen comments on his work: “When I re-engaged with these materials four years ago, the works I created focused primarily on manipulating and subverting the traditional structure of sequential art. In this way, those pieces were self-referential. As my research progressed, and this fictional world I was creating expanded, I discovered that the images were beginning to comment on current social conditions and discussions. This happened quite by accident, but as the development seemed to come organically out the work, I decided that it needed to be explored. It was fortuitous that these two opportunities to exhibit presented themselves almost at the same time, thereby enabling me to fully explore what had been feeling like two separate bodies of work.”

Cities in the Sky represents this new direction in Borgen’s work. Inspired by current cultural conversations which pit science against religion, region against region, and history against the future—represented verbally by the metaphor of living within a social or cultural bubble—the exhibition is a “semi-narrative” suite of images depicting two groups. One group is fixed on scientific analysis, the other group on its religious beliefs, and they both set out to explore a floating city in the clouds. According to Prof. Borgen, “the term ‘Cities in the Sky’ is meant to encapsulate all of the idealized states of being that we carry inside ourselves. We have our own names for them: heaven, utopia, nirvana, the theory of everything. We implement different strategies for attaining them, but in the end, it seems to me that we are all traveling to the same place.”

Also referenced in this group of seven digital prints are two works in the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s permanent art collection that Prof. Borgen viewed on his first visit to the institution. The first is an untitled mural hanging in the library from 1907 depicting three biblical scenes by Violet Oakley (1874–1961). The second is a drawing made using acrylic paint and Styrofoam devised by Sol Lewitt (1928–2007) executed on the southwest wall of the Crawford Gallery. Prof. Borgen explains: “I envision my works in this exhibition as a bridge that connects these two powerful but dramatically different artworks, just in the same way the show attempts to point out commonalities between groups with ever-increasingly divergent points of view.”

The exhibition Comic Spatial Analysis at The Center for Contemporary Art surveys Prof. Borgen’s various manipulations of the traditional comic book format made possible through a change of venue from a book to the walls of a gallery. Included are works such as Bullet Trajectory Composition #1, in which characters inhabiting separate comic panels fire guns at unseen targets. The various bullet paths converge within a central panel and serve as lines that break up the space of the picture plane to form an abstract composition. Pieces such as Room Expansion #6 and #11 combine individual panels depicting activity in various interior spaces into a single room rendered in one-point perspective. “These works are manipulations of time and space which address my long-running interest in the unreliability of memory and the problematic influence that fantasy can have on our expectations for reality,” shares Prof. Borgen.

To successfully bring about these two exhibitions in such a short timeframe Prof. Borgen took on two apprentices through the Department of Art and Design’s Minor in Arts Entrepreneurship and Curatorial Studies. “The students who worked with me on these projects were vital to their success, and not just because of the physical help and ideas that they provided. Through the act of articulating my process and decisions to students, I came to solutions to problems and realizations about the work that I may not have made otherwise.”

More information about these exhibitions and Prof. Borgen’s other works can be found at