Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

Installation View, Spagetti Paintings by Scott Reeder (all images courtesy of Lisa Cooley Gallery)

Scott Reeder is something of an enigma. His newest exhibition at Lisa Cooley Gallery, People Call Me Scott, is too. The work on view appears disjointed at first glance, which is relatively typical of the artist, who’s currently putting the finishing touches on his first feature-length film, Moon Dust, set to come out next year. Other creative endeavors include a tiny comedy club founded in his brother’s art studio, an early interactive website called Zero TV, and an art gallery. All of these projects have a sense of boundless enthusiasm and of humor. Reeder’s work resists one typical style in favor of a free-ranging aesthetic. Though he’s best described as a painter, his pieces vary from representational and primitive oils to large abstraction- and text-based works. They feel less like cohesive notes in a song than specialized and effective weapons in an arsenal.

A sheepish glance into the Lisa Cooley Gallery office, next to the entrance, revealed a flashing neon sign that alternately spells out  “cool” and uncool.” Casting a variegated shadow onto the room of attractive, black-clad gallery employees, the work made me smile at its appropriateness. It seemed like a reminder from the artist that it’s OK to laugh in the face of art world seriousness.

Installation View of text paintings by Scott Reeder

Four large vertical oil paintings dominate the righthand wall of the main gallery. These bright, allover abstractions are saturated with short, segmented lines. There’s a sense of frenetic energy as the forms intersect and bounce off of one another. They coalesce into dense patches, allowing the viewer to sink into the spaces in between. Yet, for all their depth and color, there’s a kind of one-dimensional quality that seems to beg the question, “What’s going on?” It’s only when you examine the central of the four, rendered in light blue and white squiggles, that you realize these paintings are made using pasta, cooked and uncooked depending on the work.

Once you’re in on the joke, the scale and lengths the artist went to to tell it seem astonishing. These are master-painted one liners. They also nod to the string drawings of composer John Cage: while Reed used his pasta as a kind of reverse stencil, the way one might use artist tape to block off sections of color before overpainting, Cage dipped string in ink, employing the reverse method but with similar effect. Initially, the painting on the main wall, a large-scale black horizontal dotted with starry white, looks like a Vija Celmins rendering of the night sky. Up close we see it’s actually the relief of thousands of minute pieces of alphabet pasta, like the kind you ate when you were a kid. I wasn’t a fan of that stuff when I was five, and I’m not sure it tastes any better in a painting, but I did laugh and I guess that’s the point.

Installation view of “Alternative Titles for Exhibitions I have Seen” and Song Titles, with his sculpture Bad Idea, 2013 in the foreground.

Across the gallery, a collection of some approximately 30 brightly colored canvases stretch across the wall. Each of these is adorned with a punchy, painted text phrase. Rendered flat and skinny, in boxy 3D cube letters, or dots, these phrases read like short 2 words jokes, escaped internet memes or truncated poems. Some of the phrases feel haphazard, cobbled together and purposefully random like “Bank Joke” or “Post Cats” while others are smile-inducing conceptual zingers like “Wall Talk,” “Word Jazz.” Here Reeder presents his jokey conceptualism at face value. One imagines these little quips to be the heart of his practice, upon scrubbing we might find the words “Pasta Painting” lying just beneath the surface.

In the back room the artist’s phone number as neon sculpture adorns the wall facing the door. Larger-than-life aluminum replicas of crumpled paper litter the floor. These works seem to set a dramatic stage for two large list paintings. Written in white on a black background both have the sketchy brainstormed quality of notes taken on a blackboard. His “Alternative Titles For Recent Exhibitions That I’ve Seen” is particularly hilarious. Titles like “Indoor Street Art,” “Believe it or Not, I own A Computer,” “Warhol Did It Better, But Warhols are Hella Expensive,” and “Important Art Referenced Unimportantly” function as scathing reviews that are immediately relatable.

While the work on view might not be monumental or life-changing, it is engaging and brutally honest. The art world often excessively serious — to the point of meaningless pretension. (Art writers who use words like ‘monumental’ or ‘life-changing’ are not excluded from this critique, I imagine.) In a world of wordy art jargon press releases that are so over the top they read more like Spinal Tap-inspired satire than anything else, Reeder’s work is a palate cleanser.

People Call Me Scott is on view at Lisa Cooley Gallery (107 Norfolk Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through December 22.

The Latest

7 replies on “Painting as Punchline”

  1. “Alternative Titles for Exhibitions I have Seen” is one of my favorite paintings I’ve seen this year, but not because of anything that really has to do with painting. This show is fun… something you can’t say about a lot of shows you go to.

  2. When will we realize that “being in on the joke” is not a redeeming quality of the contemporary art scene. The whole of it’s current existence relies on the viewer being in such a state. These works would be more faithfully rendered as an SNL skit or a standup routine. While Reeder may take his subject seriously (because after all the artist felt compelled enough to spend months/years addressing the “joke” of contemporary art viewing and engagement), he does not take painting very seriously. The medium is a neglected afterthought and the concept is paramount. I am waiting for the “conceptualism is dead” movement to gain some much needed traction and for painting to be reborn.

Comments are closed.