Walnut, clear pine, plastic, sawdust, cotton, steel, string and paint
40 x 56 x 48 inches
Some of the works included in the New Museum's survey of contemporary sculptural assemblage, "Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century," are strong - Isa Genzken's "Elephant" and Rachel Harrison's "Huffy Howler" come to mind - but viewers familiar with the tide of twentieth century art will recognize "Unmonumental" for what it is: Dada gone sour. These sculptures wink at, but also shrug off viewers.
Whereas Marcel Duchamp's "The Large Glass," an enigmatic celebration of complexity and absurdity, could be decoded and speculated on, the sculptures in "Unmonumental" are unenthusiastic Frankensteins. The materials that these contemporary artists use - plastic tubing, mylar, artificial flowers, designer hand bags, publicity photos - are emblems of an unhinged material culture; the sculptures, like their components, are confused or, as Jerry Saltz put it, "schizophrenic."
Mixed media assemblage
More distressingly, even as they work their aesthetic alchemy, turning consumer castoffs into certified high art, Genzken and Harrison (and their New Museum counterparts) wag a finger at Utopian dreaming. If "Unmonumental" has a unified message, it is that we, like our art, are only the insignificant sum of our belongings. "The Large Glass," by contrast, is a plea for the priority of curiosity and striving.
Matthew Ronay's second solo exhibition with Andrea Rosen is a happy answer to "Unmonumental." The press release states that the sculptor's work "stresses the primacy of the handmade object." Indeed, Ronay has used mostly traditional materials to evoke complex, abstract associations that, though borne of contemporary concerns, would have resonated a century ago.
His sculptures reflect our globalized, consumer culture, but also allude to universal narratives and symbols, providing a context for our shared schizophrenia and a welcome touch of sentimentality. Above all, they are humane works, grounded in essential (and existential) optimism.
"Mist Haze Fog Mist"
Steel, walnut, clear pine, birch, canvas, string and paint
43 1/2 x 73 x 48 inches
Photo credit: images ripped from Andrea Rosen website