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2006 08 30
Angle of Incident #18: Lost Wood
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By Gary Michael Dault

I’ve been pretty hard, over the years, on sculptor Reinhard Reitzenstein, and it’s been his briskly-selling sculptural garden seats that I have been specifically grumpy about.

They’re remarkably popular and, as Reitzenstein’s dealer Olga Korper (owner-director of Toronto’s Olga Korper Gallery) frequently tells me, she can hardly keep them in stock, as it were (I use this shop-keeping image because I do tend to see them as commodities merely, as expensive pieces of garden equipment). People swoop down upon them, however, and, their hefty price-tags notwithstanding, happily truck them off to their backyard grottos.

I’ve been told that you can’t argue with success, but I say you can—and sometimes must. Though I realise that with Reitzenstein’s garden seats, I am swimming against the current, critically speaking.

What do I have against them? Where lieth my particular animadversion against them—that has kept me, as art critic, from writing about them in any of the places I write about things?

My problem with them is, I guess, almost laughably specific. I simply don’t like the way Reitzenstein takes perfectly good lengths of grape vine—the dark, ropey, sinewy stems that invariably heave and twist themselves into such a natural baroque splendour—and consigns them to bronzing. For a typical Reitzenstein bench or garden seat or garden sculpture, these now bronzed grape vines are pressed into service as the means of holding in place a great whacking slab of limestone—which provides the seat part of the garden seat. In the finished artefact, the limestone slab rests on the “vines” (the bronzing has here generated the quotation marks) or pretends to be suspended from them. Sometimes (too often), the “vines” curl and twist about the slab, clutching it in some wild, spurious, sylvan embrace—which always reads to me as claustrophobic and Laocoon-like. Sometimes, the artist uses these materials—limestone and “vine”—to make tableaux: pure sculptures (sans seat-hood) in which small distressed “trees” cling to the hunks of limestone with their little bronzed “roots”, so that the whole construction looks frighteningly like some watery, ethereal Chinese ink drawing now come hugely and horribly to life. Some of them are (sigh) fountains. These are, I think, very popular.

What would I like better? Easy. What I’d like better—not that the artist should give a rat’s ass, I suppose, for what I’d prefer—is for Reinhard to stop going around bronzing nature and simply employ his grape vines as grape vines. Honesty of materials and all that. It’d be a feat worth achieving to twist and pleat and otherwise manipulate real grape vines into holding up big heavy slabs of rock.

Well, anyhow. The fact is—and this is the reason I’m writing this little screed—is that yesterday, when I was at the Olga Korper Gallery to see the astonishingly beautiful new paintings by John Brown—opening the evening of Thursday, Sept 7—I suddenly noticed a Reinhard Reitzenstein I didn’t hate too much.

This was an arresting moment for me. The piece is called Lost Wood #28, and consists of, yes, slab and “vine”—but in a simpler, more satisfying arrangement. Here, the “vine” simply circles the slab vertically (while supporting it)—a big bronzed “O” in the air within which you sit.

Olga made me sit on the slab with her (she is always making me partake of these kinds of experiences and I think I only do it for the excellent coffee and biscuits that always follow), and, yes, she’s right, it really was pleasant to sit there beneath that big whorl of “vine” lifting from below us and swooping up over us and returning. The thing was (this time) clearly more arbour or bower than it was sculpture or sculptural garden-seat, and seemed somehow to have thereby acquired a certain earthy innocence as a result—probably because the spatial pleasure afforded us from sitting within the calligraphic wheel of bronzed vine overcame for me—momentarily at least—the sense I usually feel of gazing upon an elaborately ersatz thing. Better, in other words, to be seated within one if these things than merely to be gazing upon it. “We don’t know who invented water”, Marshall McLuhan once told me, “but it wasn’t fish”.

I still think the piece would be better with real grape vines.

The funny thing is, I doubt that I’d be writing about the work at all, were it not for the fact that when I happened to notice it yesterday, it was sitting in front of a big plane of sky-blue—a plastic-wrapped photograph by Reitzenstein himself, turned to the gallery wall and leaning against it. A piece of portable sky. I guess I liked this shiny, plastic-swaddled blueness as much or more than I did the bronzed bower. Anyhow, it led me to Reinhard’s piece, which I was then able to enjoy more than I ever had before. Funny. That little jolt of theatre, sufficient to carry me over the edge of my usual irascibility.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 08/30 at 12:23 PM

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