Sold Out. Tim Rietenbach at Angela Meleca Gallery
The idea of the artist holding a mirror up to society has become such a common critical trope that I’m wary of even invoking it. To the degree that all art has some form of cultural context, it’s nearly impossible for it not to reflect culture back in some way or another. The mirror then is something of a given.
Overuse notwithstanding, there’s an implied power dynamic in this construct that my egalitarian nature bristles against. The “artist with a mirror” is part of an unbalanced relationship; one in which the artist sees something we don’t, knows something we don’t, and holds some power of perception we don’t. It’s a relationship that illustrates what economists refer to as information asymmetry. The mirror is the information and the artist alone wields it.
Still, it’s impossible to view Sold Out without recognizing that this is some version of our world presented in all it’s absurd glory. Further, Tim Rietenbach has devised a set of pointed, pithy, and ultimately elegant mirrors to reflect that world back to us. I say elegant because there’s an economy to these works that unites their otherwise disparate material approaches.
While the works run the gamut of mediums; from painting, to drawing, to sculpture, to installation, they’re united by a visual restraint that borders on conceptual. There is, as far as I can tell, not a single extraneous mark, wire, or wood chip in the entire show. It’s as if Rietenbach had committed himself to making his point in the simplest and most visually arresting way possible. In this way the works present themselves as simultaneously rigorous and effortless. Each piece functions like a haiku (or a William Carlos Williams’ poem); simple and spare, but rife with meaning.
Clock is a perfect example of this visual simplicity. A rough-hewn slab of wood is painted in garish, high gloss yellow and fitted with a mechanical timekeeping device. An armature of bent wire is affixed. The apparatus is powered up and hung from a wall. There, its lone wobbly hand ticks backwards across the unmarked face, informing viewers of neither the minute nor the hour. Clock then is part prop and part mockery; sharing a level of functionality comparable to Oppenheim’s Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure). Yes, its incessant ticking marks the passage of time, but for all its material bluster it’s incapable of actually telling us what time it is. In a world where time has become something relentlessly measured and noted, Rietenbach’s clock functions as a visual koan, provoking “great doubt” about time, how we measure it, and what “clock” even means.
LIKE presents a similar set of contradictions. In this work the ease in which we can “like” things in the online environment is contrasted with a resolutely analog version of the word itself. Fashioned from humble, unadorned 2x4s, constructed with a minimal amount of craftsmanship, and propped lazily against the gallery wall, viewers are offered little to like about LIKE. Yet there it is, imploring us (expecting us even) to like it.
Other works offers similarly wry observations. You takes a page from the Chuck Close playbook of monumental portraiture and asks us to consider exactly how evolved we are. Self pokes sly fun at the cult of self-interest fostered by Libertarian heroine Ayn Rand. Us presents a large-scale representation of who we are based on our nation’s military spending.
In an interview with Cart Pushers the artist suggests that this is a protest show. Perhaps it is, but I see it as slightly more clandestine than that. Rietenbach is far more prankish than prescriptive. From that vantage point Sold Out aligns more closely with the subverts of culture jamming and d’etournement than the brute and literal demands of outright protest.
Viewed through this lens, it’s clear that Rietenbach’s work isn’t about defining our world as much as it is about scribbling in the margins of it. These are visual asides; notes to accompany the text. They serve to remind us that we really should look closely at our world and the preconceived notions we hold about it. In that sense, the artist holding up a mirror is an apt metaphor indeed.
Sold Out will be on view at the Angela Meleca Gallery until March 12, 2016.
For more information visit www.angelamelecagallery.com.
Paint chips, graphite, mesh
33 1/2″ x 31 1/4″
wood, clock mechanism, wire, high gloss paint
71 x 21″
plastic label, wood, plexiglass, digital print
13 1/2″ x 13″
Canvas, spray paint