Anselm Reyle’s work and exhibitions often solicit surprisingly vigorous responses from the media. He seems to produce polarized opinions in the art world – a phenomenon seen once again in the reactions to Mystic Silver, his largest solo show to date. While a chorus of voices repeated the usual bon mots (‘shooting star’, ‘new darling of collectors/the art scene’), the critical camp tended to return quite another verdict: market-affirming kitsch. But perhaps neither position gives Reyle’s art enough credit. After all, such clichés – about ‘art’ and the ‘artist’ – are his very material.
This approach was well illustrated by a video screened in one of the exhibition’s side rooms which shows Reyle tipping paint down a huge vertical canvas with the help of assistants and a forklift truck. The footage pragmatically includes the peripheral goings-on in the studio, staged as a ritual act, including a live gothic rock band and a dry ice machine. Notions of art that circulate as clichés within society are taken on board and then reflected back in glossy versions. In an interview with Karin Schulze for Spiegel online, the artist claimed that his works address ‘their own questionability’. Some may see this as a cheap volte-face, but besides the art historical references, Reyle’s heightened glamorization of found materials really does generate a strong sense of ambivalence.
In Mystic Silver, he effectively summed up the function of such heightening as part of the work. Spread over the venue’s 3,200 square metres, he staged an impressive encounter between his various pieces. Deichtorhallen director Dirk Luckow even spoke of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. That may be going too far, but the show did offer a representative, outstandingly well-presented overview of Reyle’s oeuvre, bringing together key early pictures, sculptures and found objects, works from his collaboration with Franz West and exemplary pieces from almost all of his groups of works.
The foyer was turned into a kind of prelude comprising heaps of what might be described as studio clutter. The seemingly unfiltered presence of scrap metal, frames, neon tubes and canvases underlined what is also the principle theme of Reyle’s high gloss works: found material and its aesthetic recycling – and not just when such remnants appear, as if metamorphosed, in chrome-plated material pictures. In a broader sense, the artist also grasps entire formats as found objects, like the stripe paintings which, as he noted in an interview, could have been ‘discovered in a catalogue, or as a memory of similar pictures’.
The main exhibition hall was divided by a gigantic sheet of mirror foil into two equal halves – one dazzlingly bright, the other darkened. The first half was all glitzy spectacle: three giant foil pictures in magenta, anthracite and blue (all Untitled, 2012) on the end wall, which were accompanied by other smaller foil pictures, highly polished chrome-like sculptures titled Ontology (2012) and Eternity (2009), a selection of different stripe paintings and four ‘painting by numbers’ pictures (all 2012).
To get to the dark half of the hall, one had to enter a passage with neon yellow walls. Various works fitted with LEDs defined the atmosphere of the dark space and created an ingenious choreography of sightlines linking individual works in different ways. One impressive example was the large LED-lit Relief (2009) which followed a precisely composed loop of changing colours for effects ranging from the garish to the meditative. In this way, Reyle realized an ‘overall colour scheme’ (Gesamtfarbigkeit), a key concept that ran through the show as a leitmotif and was specifically manifest in the stripe paintings and the large hanging neon installation (Untitled, 2012).
If one were to characterize Reyle’s strategy as the unmasking of aesthetically coded surfaces – by means of the heightened impact his approach lends them – then in Mystic Silver he pushes the ambivalence between genuine kitsch and true beauty to its theatrical limit. This self-reflection and literal ‘mirroring’ of art clichés worked so convincingly here because his strategy is never shaped by analytical distance alone; the fascination with the ‘found objects’ and stylistic ‘dead ends of modernism’ remains legible in their transformation. The perfect mise-en-scène of _Mystic Silve_r brings out a paradox that has always accompanied Reyle’s work, showing that ambivalence can also flourish (even well) through affirmation.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell