Art Review: Tim Reitenbach’s “Fake” at Angela Meleca Gallery
It has been one year since Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States. Not surprisingly, this milestone has elicited every version of retrospective analysis you might imagine. Broadcast journalists fall over themselves to reach out to the base and the resistance alike. Experts are invoked, data is described, and pundits contort it all to score partisan points.
For me, the math has always been simple: Trump’s wanton disregard for equality, inclusivity, free expression, tolerance, and compassion run counter to every personal and professional value I hold. In that sense, his election was not simply a political or ideological correction, but rather the debasement and abandonment of cherished norms.
So here we are, one year in and scrambling to make sense of it all. And while the media is filled with an endless stream of hot takes, it’s worth noting that artist Tim Rietenbach has offered us a somewhat longer view. In the last year and half, Rietenbach has been working with Angela Meleca at Angela Meleca Gallery to create Fake, an exhibition of works created in the era and “under the conditions” of Trump.
The results are compelling and well worth the wait. In Fake, Rietenbach pairs his restrained aesthetic sense with a wry worldview to create works that are as thought-provoking as they are visually engaging. Further, he does it across such a wide range of materials and processes that the space fairly hums with eclectic energy. Somehow, it all fits together. It’s a testament to Rietenbach’s clarity of vision that he can conjure such a cohesive statement from such disparate materials and methods.
Visual restraint accounts for part of Fake‘s cohesiveness, but so does the element of absence, of negative space. It’s been 65 years since Robert Rauschenberg erased a De Kooning drawing, and the art world hasn’t been the same since.
Removal. Absence. Nullification. These are powerful concepts that come through time and again in Fake. They are seen in the cutout pages of Scrapbook, the missing threads of Recess, and the vanished borders of Greatness. They’re seen in the sunk relief of 2,864,974, the obliteration of images in The Red Party; and the empty suit of Floccinaucinihilipilification. These missing things, these things absent or obliterated become visual reminders of what we’ve lost this past year, what we’ve abandoned, what we’ve given up. It is haunting in its way, how much is gone.
Rietenbach’s incisive wit also plays a major role in Fake. Adopting the role of Shakespearean jester, the artist presents visual riddles and retorts designed to undermine the powers that be. At first blush, Signature reads like an ornately presented celebration of Trump’s brash autograph. A closer look though reveals the finish is cheap paint and glitter. Further, the signature itself (fabricated from sculpey clay, encased in plaster, and mounted behind glass) has more in common with a calcified relic of the past than a dynamic, vibrant leader.
Greatness, a relief map of the United States made from pegboard, presents a nod and wink to the countless demographic maps we’ve seen over the last year, yet tells us nothing. Data points traverse uniformly across a monochromatic field. Borders and geography are non-existent. Perhaps the maps are not the terrain.
Similarly, The Red Party is anything but. Oh, it’s red to be sure, but there is no party here. These 50 picture frames, arranged on the floor and painted in gloppy, garish red invite no celebration. They read instead like a kind of sad, ersatz memorial, hastily painted and erected, and in situ only until the next memorial for the next unspeakable tragedy goes up. Offer some thoughts and prayers, cart these away, and move on.
In perhaps the most unnerving works in the exhibition, Rietenbach presents a series of large paintings identified by title as the five stages of grief. It is a hopeful construct in theory, but undermined by the shape of the canvases and the disorienting patterns they present. Depending on your perspective, these works might function as either archways or tombstones. It’s a Morton’s Fork, as neither interpretation offers a satisfactory resolution.
Fake is an exhibition that demands both time and attention. While Rietenbach has distilled these works down to some pretty basic visual elements, there remains a lot to uncover and a lot to unpack. It’s worth the time though. Think about these works. Look closely. Consider what you’re seeing, and ask why the artist presented things this way. For an exhibition titled Fake, the answers, insights, and observations you’ll uncover are surprisingly real.
Fake is on view at Angela Meleca Gallery through February 24, 2018. For more information, visit angelamelecagallery.com.