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Art Review: Matthew Ronay at Marc Foxx

September 25, 2009 |  7:30 am


Children and primitives have long fascinated avant-garde artists, particularly for the authenticity of their visions and the unwashed rawness of their expressions. New York artist Matthew Ronay turns this tradition upside-down, inside-out and backward, transforming a fetishistic fascination with supposedly unsullied otherness into an intimate exploration of the playful fakery and profound artifice at the root of all forms of art.

Ronay’s third solo show in Los Angeles, at Marc Foxx, is a dizzying trip that takes viewers so deeply inside themselves that they can’t help but come out differently.

Titled “is the shadow,” Ronay’s subtly understated exhibition plays off Carl Jung’s ideas of internal otherness. It begins by presenting two rooms filled with what appear to be primitive artifacts. On the wall hang four poncho-style cloaks, their neck holes resembling all-seeing eyes. Beside each hangs a matching hood or two. A single hand-carved staff leans nearby. (The beautifully odd objects can be seen in three enigmatic snippets on YouTube.)

On the floors of the two galleries lie what appear to be five ceremonial rugs. Each is decorated as elaborately as the cloaks, with irregular patterns, abstract stitchery and all sorts of lumpy feathers, matte gems, stylized shells, faux teeth and papier-mâché stones. Each rug also holds an arrangement of talismanic artifacts, including golden rings, symbolic eyes, painted twigs, waxy rocks and a pint-size sepulcher.

The strangest thing about Ronay’s handcrafted works is that they are made of the materials a grade-school kid would get at a fantastic summer camp, especially if his counselors were obsessed with primitive rituals, knew a bit about Hopi kachinas and let the interested kids skip sports so they could spend more time creating their own versions of sacred objects.

At once cute and deadly serious, Ronay’s deceptively simple art superimposes childhood playtime and primitive ritual to short-circuit an adult’s ability to keep both at a safe distance. His army-of-one, let’s-pretend primitivism serves him well.

Matthew Ronay at Marc Foxx, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 857-5571, through Oct. 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

--David Pagel

Above: Transmitter, 2009.  Photo credit: Courtesy of Marc Foxx