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Andrea Rosen Gallery - 525 W 24 St, New York NY
1 Februrary - 8 March 2008
Matthew Ronay is a good sculptor. He's not just making iconography in 3-D. He consistently tells a story about something larger than himself using our ideas about space and arranging objects to create interesting visual fields . I use Matthew Ronay's work when I am trying to explain the difference between a sculpture and an object to my students. He's definitely doing it right.
And when I teach really good students, I use Matthew Ronay's work to explain what happens when you do it a little too right, and do too little beyond that. His work tends to be very much of its sources. It's a little too Jessica Stockholder, and way too Paul McCarthy. It’s all blustery talk about getting fucked by big black men, all cock-and-balls, but cute cocks and balls. With a candy coated shell, downright conservative execution, and very little placed on the line. The note he tends to hit is hip and impersonal. The idea of a disaster.
But there are no outwardly transgressions currently on view at Andrea Rosen. And very little MDF. No bright colors, "shocking" guttertalk titles, blood or buttholes. No grass or landscape or freeway. Nothing glossy, nothing cartoony, nothing silly, no scatology. Go to Andrea Rosen and see for yourself. There is sensitive primitivism devoid of schtick. Some rich material choices and an overwhelming sense of the artist's hand at work. It's still on the conservative side, but it's not cool. It's representations of shelter instead of speed. It's Africa meets Sukkot meets the feeling of being adrift at sea. It's romantic and it's earnest.
The world as we know it must be coming to an end.
I'm half-serious. For all my grousing, I do understand what Ronay has been driving at since he left Yale. He's been talking about how it feels to be part of an empire that is about to fall. His vision has been airy, baroquely fucked up and internally inconsistent—just like the world we all negotiate. Structure doesn't matter. Everything's ugly and shiny at the same time. He depends on surreal fragments because it's about the simulation of the thing instead of the thing itself, with humans forgetting that they are human, and human flesh rising up to meet the challenge of being ignored, but you can't see this nastiness because everything is gleaming like an iPod. The fact that Ronay's work bugged the crap out of me for years and mostly looked like hype could have meant that it was working. I can't argue with the fact that it fit seamlessly into the zeitgeist.
The thing about this new show, with sculptures that are offering bowls and stacks of blocks and scraps of shelter, bearing somber titles like Observance and Of Host, is that it's just as real as the fast, glossy vision Ronay was offering in 2005. I feel very serious right now; we all do. And to walk around Andrea Rosen's gallery, knowing where Ronay is coming from and seeing what he is offering now, is to confirm that the destruction we are all wreaking has nothing to do with hype and is actually quite real.
This body of work wears its earnestness heavily. The tight craft that made Ronay's older work pop looks frumpy and Puryear when extended to more precious materials. But whatever; this show also opens a door. Fast glossy fragments that cleave the status quo were once just the thing, and now they are nowhere near enough. I applaud Ronay for seeing this, and I hope this show is the beginning of a vision that he will continues to further articulate. With even more risk, a pinch of actual lightness instead of light talk, and less dependence on what is already known about sculpture.