Organ/Organelle, Marc Foxx, Los Angeles, September 6–October 4, 2014.
Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of Marc Foxx, Los Angeles.
With two room-size installations and a selection of recent sculptures and reliefs, Matthew Ronay’s work ranges across botany and biology, anatomy and bodily systems, performance and sculpture, natural phenomena and psychology. Rooted in mysticism, Ronay’s works take on the careful repetitions of mantra, the stillness of meditation, and the sensual physicality of bodily functions, fluids, and movements.
The Blaffer Art Museum presents New York-based artist Matthew Ronay’s first museum exhibition in the US, June 3-Oct. 1. He also has a solo exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum Miami this year, and he is organizing a group exhibition titled Empirical Intuitive Absorption at Andrea Rosen Gallery this summer, including works by Serge Charchoune, Fernand Léger, Graham Marks, Terry Riley, and Ronay. He was a resident at Artpace in San Antonio in 2010, and his work was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial and the 2013 Lyon Biennial.
Ronay’s In and Out and In and Out, Again (2013) is a luscious water-like installation that sprawls out from the wall; from a large gouache painting in blues and turquoises springs a blue, ovaloid latex carpet with six sculptures arranged in a procession across it. Balls and arches, mounds and cones, globules and rivulets, the sculptures seem like a phantasmagoric landscape that also, weirdly, hints at the organs, veins, arteries, and blood cells that organize the human body. A meditation on what happens to the body after life, In and Out and In and Out, Again looks to the Egyptian book of the dead. It is melancholy and pensive, and there is an element of eroticism in the materials and the shapes of the structures. “Once there’s a union between two things,” Ronay says, “the two things die, and there’s a new thing.”
There are unions also across media in Ronay’s works. He often considers his sculptures in tandem with installation, painting, and performance. The blue phallic sculpture in the center of In and Out and In and Out, Again becomes a kind of temporary dwelling for the artist, who enters it and kneads balls of clay, then shoots them from the structure’s spout. “From this kind of Rube Goldberg machine, out comes this little gift,” he says. “On the atomic level, small things make bigger things. … [there’s also an element of] transfiguration, going from one state to another. Part of it is endurance: breathing techniques, coping techniques. It’s hard to understand that a body would be inside a sculpture.” For these performances, he draws from rituals and mythologies that illuminate certain shared ways of knowing. He muses that this act, of making beads from clay, must be one of the earliest expressions of human creativity. His performance also suggests the talismanic quality of making the small objects.
Ronay’s striking use of color in the installation Organ /Organelle maps a kind of abstracted respiratory system in reds, pinks, purples, yellows, and a few splashes of turquoise. Ronay, who is colorblind, notes his respectful fixation on color and its subjective qualities. “Everyone has a different way of seeing color,” he says. “As a deficiency, [being colorblind] has made me extra careful and curious… That kind of unknowing really gives me something to work with.” His technicolor objects lend a joyful brightness to the exhibition’s atmosphere. “If I weren’t colorblind, maybe I’d use more ‘tasteful’ combinations, or more subtle,” he says. But these psychedelic combinations, he adds, are often found in nature, in undersea environments, in the plumage of tropical birds, or in the foliage of Amazonian plants. “An installation has the quality of a whole, entire world… Artists and shamans have always created in conversation with nature, whether we understand it or not.”
“One of the things that fascinates me about nature, is the sheer quantity of stuff,” Ronay says. He notes his interest in mathematics, repetition, and counting. The idea, he adds, is that the work should not feel labored, but that when you look closely, you find that there are thousands of holes, lines, and repeated forms. “That kind of repetition resonates with my experience of being alive.”
Ronay’s installations are labor-intensive and made by hand, without assistants. It’s an immersive process, one that offers the structures naturalness: “as a result, the works look like they made themselves. Or came from an alien landscape.”
Ronay recalls visiting a Shaker community near his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and being struck by the value of handmade objects. “There’s something honorable about work,” he says. “I’m really dedicated to craft, and a lot of craft is about time and the hand.” He is also dedicated to certain routines in his working life. For a 2014 exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery, Ronay showed a series of daily drawings in which he charted the human respiratory system. The repetition of drawing every day became both a meditative ritual and an exploration of emotion and the body. His exhibition at the Blaffer will include a room of reliefs, that Ronay says underscore his process and show the relationship between his work in different media. “I have an intuitive language that keeps unfolding,” Ronay says. “Learn to listen, to look, to be in the moment.”
—LAURA A. L. WELLEN