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"In difficult situations art can be really powerful" - The "Artist of the Year," Imran Qureshi, in an interview
Auratic Cabinet of Curiosities - Rosemarie Trockel's Art Cosmos at the New Museum
Viaggio in Italia - Photography in the Deutsche Bank Collection in Milan
"Disguising the Obvious" - Amy Cutler's Enigmatic Drawings
Imran Qureshi, Deutsche Bank´s “Artist of the Year” 2013
"If everyone likes it, then I´ve done something wrong." - Anselm Reyle at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg


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“If everyone likes it, then I’ve done something wrong.”
Anselm Reyle at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg

While collectors love his work, many curators and critics are skeptical about it – too much glitz, too superficial. Scarcely another contemporary artist is discussed as controversially as Anselm Reyle. Now visitors can make up their own minds at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. The contemporary art center is devoting a large show to the Berlin-based artist, who is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection. Kito Nedo met Reyle in advance of the exhibition and discovered that he has developed a desire for imperfection.

Chaos and mountains of garbage are familiar components of contemporary art. But the heaps of trash in Hamburg’s Deichtorhallen look strangely raw and unfinished. Mutilated canvases, cables, neon tubes, wood residue and all kinds of metals are accustomed elements in the work of Anselm Reyle. However, he normally arranges these materials down to the last detail and seals their surfaces until they shine. Thus, there is a reason why the Berliner has the reputation of being a perfectionist art technocrat who leaves nothing to chance and runs his Treptow studio operations in the style of a medium-sized Swabian toolmaker’s shop. Did he intend to produce new works quickly right at the location? Or did he discard existing ones? What exactly is going on here? Reyle sheds light on the situation. Since studio trash has “an energy all its own,” he brought a truckload of it to Hamburg to spice up the beginning of the exhibition tour. A rust-infested, once-blue ticket booth from the long-closed East Berlin Spreepark amusement park rounds out the reception. Reyle (who was born in Tübingen in 1970) is satisfied with the result. It is a loosening up exercise for the painter and sculptor’s biggest solo exhibition to date. The Deutsche Bank Collection contains abstract works by the artist.

You feel right at home at the show, which is entitled Mystic Silver and chiefly consists of works executed in the last five years, because the exhibits have been featured in countless magazines and catalogs: the foil paintings in their acrylic-glass Snow White coffins, the stripe paintings with their frivolous superficiality, the massive chrome-sealed sculptures reminiscent of Koons, rainbow-colored fake debris, painting-by-numbers, the fluorescent hay wagon from the Boros bunker – everywhere there is glitter paint, mirrors, and neon colors. A bright signal yellow color sluice is enthroned in the middle of the room, through which you move from daylight to black light.

The artist relates that when he was studying in Karlsruhe in the nineties his painting professor tried to dissuade him from using neon colors. But Reyle, who is now a teacher himself at Hamburg’s University of the Arts, stuck with them. He loves the color temperatures close to the boiling point, which make your eyes water. Taking all of this into account, it becomes apparent that the artist has borrowed the cold core of his world of color and shapes from industrial culture. And it is no accident that his dark and shiny small sculptures look like space technology debris that has fallen off of a Klingon starship.   

The distinctive Reyle reference mix ranges from eighties punk art to an homage to the U.S. painter Bob Ross, the inventor and star of the 403-part TV painting course The Joy of Painting. He also appropriates African crafts, the varnishing mania of autotuning culture, and relief façade elements from GDR architecture. Due to the boyish devotion with which Reyle pimps everyday objects and surfaces for art, one might very well find the resulting aesthetic grounds interesting, in keeping with the zeitgeist, or at the very least amusing. But many critics do not. Instead, Reyle bashing has been rampant for years. There is the American woman blogger who denounces the artist, saying he makes “shallow, overproduced pieces,” that he produces “trophies for uninformed collectors who fancy themselves in on the joke.” And then there is the critic writing for the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung who claims that Reyle only paints “Paul Smith shirts and nails packing paper in picture frames.” Last year, an art magazine adorned its cover with one of the artist’s endearing, extremely bright-colored puppy motifs from his painting-by-numbers series, but not without posing the suggestive question: “Kitsch or art?” If you investigate the criticism of Reyle, you might learn more about the distinction-obsessed critics than the artist himself.

Reyle knows the game by now and reacts routinely. “If everyone likes it, then I’ve done something wrong.” The kitsch argument particularly gets on his nerves. “Political art as themed decoration can also be kitsch.” That’s right. Still, it is hard to imagine seeing his paintings or installations at a Berlin Biennale or a documenta. They are a bit too glossy, too reminiscent of Miami. His art is a little like a tanned sun studio beauty who is not invited to cool intellectual parties.

Does he have to worry? No, because although curators and critics are not very fond of Reyle’s art, collectors adore it. And this affection is served productively. “I talk openly about the market and don’t act like this is a faux-pas.” It’s like this: The stronger the rejection from one corner, the more he is embraced elsewhere, particularly by the design and fashion world. Hedi Slimane, for example, is a declared fan of Reyle. The Frenchman once photographed the artist’s studio in Kreuzberg as though he was taking a picture in the kitchen of a futuristic alchemist. And the mischievous artist/entrepreneur  Rafael Horzon described Reyle’s studio in detail in his bestseller Das Weisse Buch and thus erected a little memorial to him. Everyone wants to plumb the secret of the artist’s success in his own way. The fondness for him became almost oppressive last year, when Dior invited the artist to freshen up the luxury brand with camouflage patterns. The cooperation went splendidly, and in the end Dior nail paint was even sold in the Reyle pallet.

The Dior line was left out of the Hamburg show, as were the monstrous sofa objects the artist presented in his Berlin gallery CFA last year. But a separate room is devoted to the artist’s collaboration with the late Franz West. For two-and-a-half years, unfinished objects went back and forth between Reyle’s and his Austrian friend’s studios, which were worked on by the respective other side. In the spring, shortly before West’s death, the chair objects and collages were presented for the first time in the Schinkel Pavilion in Berlin. West encouraged Reyle to improvise, and the Berliner is grateful to him. “It was liberating to get away from my own perfection this way.” Thus, the exhibition in Deichtorhallen presents more than what is already known about Reyle. On the one hand, Mystic Silver is about how an artist has remained true to himself. On the other, the exhibition shows that in the future his top priority might be to let go, to say farewell to absolute control and meticulous perfection. For it is precisely by embracing chaos that moments of beauty can be found.

09.11.2012 – 27.01.2013
Deichtorhallen, Hamburg

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