3.19 / Review

From Chicago: Scott Reeder

By Randall Miller July 18, 2012

At first glance, Scott Reeder’s nine paintings—all untitled, all painted in 2012—at Kavi Gupta Gallery look like high-concept modernist abstractions. Simple forms such as short, poker-straight lines and thumbnail-size dots are repeated within a composition, creating densities and spatial relationships between these marks. Using color selectively, in combinations that range from black on silver to burnt orange on rust brown, Reeder creates a visual language that depends on a handful of aesthetic choices. Through these choices, the artist’s formal concerns begin to echo those explored by artists such as Kazimir Malevich during his proto-minimalist phase, Cy Twombly in his blackboard paintings, and Sol LeWitt in his investigations of variation and repetition. Reeder’s paintings appear to pay homage to the titans of Modernism, whose works abstractly expressed complex emotional experiences and challenging artistic concepts through restrained or expressionistic compositions.

And homage they would be, had the marks in Reeder’s paintings not been made with pasta noodles, as they in fact were. If you’re like me, you might find yourself wondering, “What the fuck, Scott Reeder?” Because it’s hard to take the autographic gesture seriously when it’s revealed to be the product of limp spaghetti. Pasta, you see, is ridiculous, and Scott Reeder knows this. In using it to create his paintings, he appears to take a sly jab at the masculine heroics historically associated with modern art and the critical discourse surrounding it. But how relevant would a critique of Modernism be more than six decades after its watershed years, assuming that’s all Reeder is up to? Modern artists, particularly the Abstract Expressionists, have long been the whipping boys of artists, critics, and historians alike. So much so that to even approach today the conceptual terrain of an artist like de Kooning—unless you happen to be Cecily Brown or Mark Grotjahn—is akin to critical suicide. Very few artists working today would dare to tow modernism’s critical baggage. In the post-postmodern art world of 2012, serious American artists are aware of art history and the marketplace and know that continuing in the modernist tradition will not suffice. My guess is that Scott Reeder, standing in front of his canvas, noodles in hand, knows this, too.

Scott Reeder. Untitled, 2012; acrylic and enamel on canvas; 64 x 44 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago.
Scott Reeder. Installation view, Scott Reeder, 2012. Courtesy of the Artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago.

So an alternate interpretation of Reeder’s works is to read them as a collection of pseudo-serious paintings that critique the critique leveled at painterly authenticity. In an essay for his 2011 show at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm likens Reeder’s work to “bad painting,” or work—typically figural but in this case abstract—that intentionally adopts a critically unfavorable set of aesthetics in order to challenge established canons of what good art should look like. Truthfully, it’s hard to parse Reeder’s intentions. The paintings are dry enough to appear serious, despite the artist’s pasta-based process. And yet, there’s hardly enough going on within the works to summon an appreciation for Modernism. The paintings are only mildly interesting at best, neither silly enough to live up to the mantle of bad nor formally compelling enough to offer a substantial argument for whatever creative potential can be wrung from Modernism. Viewers are left with paintings resembling the type of innocuous abstract art that occupies restaurants and office lobbies. The critical potential of Reeder’s wit is hidden behind a veil of seriousness—although that potential could easily be overlooked by casual viewers because nothing in the work itself invites a more critical reading.

The sculptures on view seem to fall more readily into Widholm’s notion of bad art. A large hanging mobile, Untitled (2012), slowly twists in the center of the gallery. Hanging from its steel armature are six pieces of white enamel-painted metal, crumpled like discarded sheets of paper. Two more crumpled metal sculptures lie on the gallery floor. Unlike his paintings, Reeder’s sculptures look more overtly like junk or metaphorically like failed ideas that missed the wastebasket. The artist’s wit is more apparent in these pieces—less veiled behind his ambiguous sincerity.

The final work in the show is a neon installation displayed in a separate gallery. The piece, titled Shhhhhhhhh (2012), sits three feet off the ground and is fashioned after the artist’s own handwriting. Perhaps Reeder has the last word after all in the critical debates he invokes as the piece silently compels skeptical viewers to keep their words to themselves.


Scott Reeder is on view at Kavi Gupta Gallery, in Chicago, through July 28, 2012.

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