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Ryo Toyonaga
University of Oregon, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, Oregon
Recommendation by Richard Speer

Ryo Toyonaga, “Untitled-C18,” 2014, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72”.

Continuing through January 4, 2015

Ryo Toyonaga pulls out all the metaphorical stops in his fiercely disturbing, beautifully installed exhibition, “Awakening.” His untitled drawings, paintings, and ceramic and papier-mâché sculptures teem with imagery of viscera and appendages that glisten, wriggle and go bump in the night. Five hanging and wall-mounted sculptures installed in a darkened room pack enough psychosexual punch to inspire a lifetime of therapy sessions; they variously evoke the vagina dentata, French-tickler condoms, and the “tentacle porn” prevalent in subgenres of Japanese hentai erotica. 

Toyonaga’s immaculately executed ceramic sculptures, mostly small- and medium-scaled, evoke H.R. Giger’s bio-mechanical cyborgs. They often appear half-industrial, half-organic: blob-like orbs on which handles and gears alternate with scales, hair, and bony nubs that wouldn’t look out of place on a lobster. The artist spent many years in semi-reclusion; he made many of these works while holed up in a cabin in the Catskill Mountains. He doesn’t like to talk explicitly about his bizarre subject matter, preferring more general allusions to Surrealist influences, dreams, and the unconscious. While he has shown his work in gallery settings, primarily in New York City and East Hampton, this is his first one-person museum show. It’s a strong, splashy debut.

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