On ViewMoca Westport
Rainbow in the Dark
March 19–May 28, 2023
Anselm Reyle is about drawing, insofar as drawing is about diagramming, writing, jotting, annotating, and condensing reality. Much art tries to convince the viewer that an illusion is real, but in Rainbow in the Dark (curated by Emann Odufu), Reyle does the opposite: he convinces the viewer that the real is an apparition. The entire gallery is filled with slashes, strokes, and curves heightened by an occasional letter, word, or symbol. Perhaps it’s a Warhol dance diagram run amok, as the forms and lines have become untethered and gravitate towards the center. The floating words themselves engage with the medium—neon signage—triggering the mind with “adult” and “love,” the tawdry signs in the windows of sex shops. Paired as they are with random letters and glowing hearts, Reyle also draws a connection, albeit a close one, between kitsch culture, the world of framed inspirational quotes and rainbow unicorns. Did we know these were just one stop away from porn? Probably yes, but wandering through Reyle’s cloud of electrified gas, we submit to the superficiality of the capitalist spectacle he’s both critiquing and toying with.
The main gallery of Rainbow in the Dark is filled with wall-hung framed mixed-media boxes and photographs, with freestanding glistening plastic boxes and large ceramic sculptures. Neon continues to play a role, as do photographs of movement and light, and objects that engage with the optical illusions that emerge from the layering of luminescence over shine and gloss. Reyle’s use of neon stays far from the plaintive lamentations of Tracey Emin, the political declarations of Lauren Bon, or the brainy cartographies of Warren Neidich; Reyle is fascinated by the gloss of neon. But it’s a poetic fascination reminiscent of Nick Carraway’s obsessive and well-reasoned adulation of Jay Gatsby’s excess in The Great Gatsby—the realization that all the glitz and glamour is a clever smokescreen for much darker and exciting passions. In fact, many of the C-prints (all untitled, all 2023) have the blurry speed combined with bright, almost blinding lights reminiscent of Francis Cugat’s 1925 cover of The Great Gatsby—a work of art that almost transcended the novel in its succinct encapsulation of the champagne-and-flapper age. Reyle’s mixed media works challenge the viewer to anchor themselves to something, anything, in a framework that rejects static reliable form. A smoothly rippling sheet of silver foil serves as backdrop to throbbing neon shapes, all behind a perfect transparent sheet—it’s reflection with no original; Reyle charts the complicated circuitous path of the spectacle while flirting with Benjamin and Derrida. The two ceramic works Nemesis and Dawn of Flames (both 2023) offer some explanation and relief, presenting thickly sculpted earthenware vessels in glistening, but now alien, texture and color. Bright orange and yellow glazes flow down the side of these punctured and weathered objects. Is it icing on a cake, a fresh green sprout emerging from humus, or lipstick on a pig?
Two films accompany the exhibition; one is a whirly short doc titled Anselm Reyle in Studio (2020), which employs screen mirroring, reverse negative footage, and all sorts of trippy gestures overlaid on very simple documentation of the artist and his assistants making paintings. There are no paintings in Rainbow in the Dark, except for a billowing site-specific black and red spray wall-painting in the entrance to the museum, painted with a fire extinguisher, which again seems more closely aligned to the neon diagrams. So, in Anselm Reyle in Studio, all natural color has been drained from the film, and the artist is again trafficking in surfaces and textures: gooey, grainy, and shiny. The second film piece features a projection of the black-and-white horror flick Them! (1954), with one of Reyle’s untitled (2022) plexi-neon box pieces placed at center. While giant, shiny, irradiated ants terrorize the citizens of Los Angeles, Reyle’s piece becomes the main character in the film, due mostly to the film director’s reliance on traditionally centralized shot composition. Untitled features lavender, blue, lime, and lemon strokes with a red heart over a crinkly silver foil background that reflects the myriad colors and distils them into even more strokes and shimmery emanations. This literal box of kitsch plants itself neatly at the center of an equally kitschy cautionary tale on the “dangers” of modernity. The question is, are we going to buy into the idea of subtext itself, or is a giant irradiated ant sometimes just a giant irradiated ant?