Richard Rezac at Luhring Augustine
Richard Rezac, an artist in his late sixties, practices in Chicago. In 2018, the Renaissance Society, a space under the auspices of the University of Chicago, held a retrospective of three decades of the artist’s work, to considerable acclaim. In “Pleat,” the artist’s show now up in New York, Rezac’s work defies easy description, being a complex amalgam of truly ordinary materials placed as wall works, with one or two pieces hanging from the ceiling, which are all resolutely abstract. One looks for obvious influences without much success; the art may be a consequence of looking at minimalist sculpture, but this presupposes a concern with modernism, which Rezac shows little interest in. Instead, these are assemblages made of everyday materials, in which the substance and the theme are oriented toward a sophisticated populism, in today’s culture not a paradox in terms.
The formalism inherent in Rezac’s work is aligned with his willingness to create works of idiosyncratic inconsistency, in which the temper of the art evades history for a self-sufficient existence. These are objects meant to be seen for what they are as they are, and likely not more. We have truly reached a time when the coherencies of modernism now seem passé--more than a few decades have passed since the startling originality of Picasso's proto-Cubist and Cubist experiments. The question thus becomes, What shall be done next? It is hard to characterize overall so pluralist a time, but calling Rezac’s art self-sufficient and ahistorical might well be a good way of starting to address a more general movement in sculpture today, in which an individualist outlook is wedded to a sense of proletarian form and materials. For those of us who are older, the change comes as a bit of a shock–yet art moves on, as it inevitably does.
Rezac’s works are very much discrete objects, not necessarily closely affiliated with each other. Chigi (2017) is esoteric in form, being a set of wooden and aluminum rails, like the guards of a child’s crib, in white and orange and placed at right angles to each other. At the foot
of one of the rails is an organic form, of vertically rising ovals, made of cast hydrocal. The name “Chigi” is the name of a Roman princely
family; Agostino Chigi, the banker born c. 1465, supported artists and art projects with large sums. How do we connect the name of a great art benefactor to the abstract sculpture? The art, which is cheerfully absurd, lacking in accessible meaning but intensely sculptural, does not easily coexist with its title. In addition, one has to think hard and long about the meaningfulness of so arbitrary a combination of the forms. Yet the formal conflicts engendered by the juxtaposition of such different shapes, austere but narratively meaningless, result in a memorable work of art. The famous family name Chigi lends an aura of elegance to the work of art but does not explain how its elegance is exampled in the work itself.
The tension between meaning and nonsense is central to the experience of Rezac’s work. In "Untitled (19-11)" (2019), three painted panels, of light green and orange diamonds, are partially framed on the upper left and lower right by partial pieces of molding. It is fair to say the pieces seems capricious, whimsical beyond explanation, but it is also true that the haphazard quality of the juxtapositions record both an impatience with meaning as we know it and, on some exciting level, a willingness to take chances with content that we would not normally consider. In this sense Rezac is truly a participant in the innovatory practice of his time. In an interesting work from 2019, called "Untitled (wren)", the piece is hung from the ceiling, being a criss-cross of stick-like forms and tubes made of cast hydrocal and aluminum. How they bear relations to the diminutive birds escapes the viewer, given the geometrical arrangement of the discrete forms and the use of a high-tech metal. We can only guess at the metaphysical meanings of Rezac’s alignment of materials and forms that make small sense in a rational way. But then, maybe, he is ahead of our comprehension.
One of the most interesting pieces, "Untitled (19-02)" (2019), is a relief that looks a lot like a maquette for a home, consisting of thin wooden planes, painted green and orange, that jut some four inches away from the wall. The work is angled diagonally, with a large open space boxed in by the wooden panels, and off its upper right, two smaller spaces, also contained by wood of the same color. Hanging down from the large space is a piece of aluminum that neither supports nor detracts from the general experience of the sculpture. It is a deliberate anomaly, as is most of Rezac’s work. The hard part of the artist’s output is not the acceptance of his enigmatic constructions in a visual sense; they often beautiful and are always well made. Instead, we are bemused by their content. On seeing the work, it feels very much like seeing the next step taken in sculpture. Richard Artschwager made work that filled the same space some decades ago. Even should we find Rezac’s work puzzling, it makes sense on an intuitive level, in ways that challenge and further our vision.
- Jonathan Goodman, August 5, 2021
Images courtesy of Luhring Gallery, exhibition is on view through AUG 6