Binghamton artist recycles past with assemblage sculpture exhibit

The Lederer Gallery held the opening reception for its first exhibit of the spring semester “The Upright Object” on Friday Jan. 30. The exhibit featured the modern assemblage sculptures of Binghamton-based artist and art professor Ronald Gonzalez.

Director of the galleries Cynthia Hawkins said she was instantly impressed with Gonzalez’s work when selecting the artist for this exhibit. “He sent his portfolio and I called him the next day,” Hawkins said. “I thought, ‘These are totally powerful and wild.’” Hawkins went on to add that she generally doesn’t show much sculpture at Geneseo, largely because it’s challenging for artists to transport a gallery’s worth of sculptures without incident.

Gonzalez––who attended the reception for his exhibit alongside numerous guests––said that the spatial dimensions of a gallery do tend to determine, in part, the contents and arrangement of the exhibit itself. He ended up making multiple trips to Geneseo to prepare the gallery. This preparation process included building the mounts on which some of the sculptures rest, and meticulously placing each piece himself.

“I wanted to deal with a couple of platforms and incorporate something a little more texturally nuanced [and to] use the space to give some sort of play between the larger pieces and the smaller ones,” Gonzalez said.

There is certainly a lot of variation in the texture and composition of these pieces, as well as in their size. Though each sculpture is painted black and groupings of the humanistic figures are each of similar respective heights, close inspection reveals that each figure is highly individualistic. Among the objects Gonzalez used for the figures’ heads were a globe, a shoe, a roller skate, a medical bag, a helmet, a propeller, a hairbrush and a banjo.

Gonzalez noted that his fascination with collecting objects began in his childhood. “I’ve been a collector as far back as I can remember, starting with a little trinket collection from gumball machines,” he said. “There’s a 50s feel to a lot of it; there is that throwback element there.”

Hawkins emphasized her belief that today’s Geneseo students can glean value from Gonzalez’s found figures on multiple levels. “[Students] can see that there’s a different instance of sort of using a human figure, anthropomorphizing materials that are antithetical to flesh and blood to [create] … a kind of flesh and blood,” she said. “It might lead people to think about science-oriented things or science fiction.”

Hawkins went on to add that this art form is valuable in that it “uses the discarded to make new.” This may carry with it a heavy message in an era in which the public discourse is saturated with talk of climate change and peak oil. According to Hawkins, “[Gonzalez’s work] invites conversation about sustainability and recycling.”

There is still definitely a foreboding element to the black figures which are arranged in near-soldierly stances—just slightly off-kilter. Something about the rows of assembled objects––so different from one another and yet so alike––is quite ominous. The fact that they are made of what many would consider garbage only serves to deepen that feeling of uneasiness in the viewer.

Gonzalez said that this rather pessimistic perspective on his work is expected. “This kind of world view was there when I was a kid growing up in Binghamton,” he said. “I was born there, and I’ve lived there my whole life, and … it’s a kind of deteriorated upstate region. I think that’s an important part of [the exhibit].

Gonzalez noted that he does not always approach art quite so severely, however. A recent Corning & the Southern Finger Lakes exhibit of his “My Own Little World” was arguably more lighthearted, even whimsical in its presentation of found figures on an exclusively miniature scale.

When teaching art at SUNY Binghamton, Gonzalez’s explained that his unique artistic character often comes into play in the classroom. “Teaching is just an extension of your work,” he said. “What you have to say to others comes out of the way that you’re projecting yourself, within your work and then toward others outside of that. There’s really no way around it.”

One could argue that these same projections were present even in his early days as an artist when Gonzalez worked with plaster, making “little figures and so on,” but always embedding other objects into them. Before long, however, Gonzalez noted that, “Those pieces began to grow in scale, and eventually everything dropped away but the objects themselves.”