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Alchemy of Pain

A work made of foam, wax, pigment, metal leaf, paper, glass and drywall.
Photo �JoshuaWhite

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  • A work made of foam, wax, pigment, metal leaf, paper, glass and drywall.




Matthew Monahan
American, born 1972

About this artwork

In Alchemy of Pain, a hulking, statuesque figure stands on a low platform constructed of raw gypsum drywall. Separated into three distinct parts and reassembled with wood trowels and metal nails that pierce and adorn its body and face, the limbless form precariously balances a narrow sheet of glass topped with a three-dimensional charcoal drawing. Alchemy of Pain references the exaggerated poses of classical sculpture while revealing the allegorical transformation of everyday materials into a symbol of awkward harmony.

Matthew Monahan assembles freestanding, semi-figurative sculptures, presented in glass vitrines or on handcrafted pedestals, from unconventional, disparate materials such as floral foam, beeswax, glitter, pins, Styrofoam, glass, twine, wire, metal leaf, and fragments of his earlier works. Under self-imposed rules, Monahan creates by mining his imagination, without the use of photography, source materials, fabrications, or ready-mades. His fragmented figures often depict characters—warriors, saints, slain heroes, and demons— that express such enigmatic emotions as Zen contemplation and Gothic anguish. Monahan’s complex layering of narratives onto materials invites speculation as to each object’s history and meaning.


Currently Off View


Contemporary Art


Matthew Monahan


Alchemy of Pain


United States (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Foam, wax, pigment, metal leaf, paper, glass and drywall


170 × 152 × 105 cm (67 × 60 × 41 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Society for Contemporary Art

Reference Number



© 2006-2007 Matthew Monahan + Stuart Shave/Modern Art.

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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