Anselm Reyle: Rainbow in the Dark at MoCA Westport

 Untitled, 2023, Mixed media, neon, cable, acrylic glass, 36.61 x 29.53 x 8.66 in, 93 x 75 x 22 cm 


Anselm Reyle: Rainbow in the Dark

Museum of Contemporary Art Westport

March 19 through May 28, 2023

Curated by Emann Odufu


Anselm Reyle's most recent solo show, Rainbow in the Dark, is a reference to his neon works and includes influences from punk and rock aesthetics. Anslem Reyle (b. 1970) started making art in the nineties, inspired by underground music and the club culture of Berlin. During this time, he used materials that are essential to the grunge/punk aesthetic, namely scrap metal and neon. The combination of the materials and colors created semi-cool paintings with an industrial feel which became his signature style. Over the years, he became known as a gestural abstract expressionist and often used found materials to create site-specific installations and 3-D paintings. The artist experienced a boom in the early and mid-2000s, with shows at major art institutions and an auction record that peaked at 6.5 million for total sales in one year. But recently, Reyle had been relatively quiet and hadn't shown work in the United States in several years. 

The curator, Emann Odufu, states that preparing for this show felt like a big return for Reyle over a year in the making. Their relationship began through a mutual friend, but at first, Odufu didn't intend to show Reyle's work in a museum. When Reyle and Odufu were deciding on the concept, they knew they wanted to highlight his inspiration from the Berlin underground punk scene initially by displaying the work in a warehouse. But instead, they ended up conceptualizing a new exhibit to showcase old and new pieces together in a museum space with remnants of the underground club setting.

Untitled, 2023, C-Print, wooden frame, 34.25 x 29.13 in, 87 x 74 cm, 35.43 x 30.31 in, 90 x 77 cm

The museum was transformed with spray-painted walls, and the neons reflected vibrantly against the grey concrete, reminiscent of lights in a nightclub. The use of neon is ever-present in the exhibit in light, paint, and the color that reflects over the glass-covered aluminum. The show was a vibrant yet chilled combination of different mediums-- a mixture of junk and glamour. The aesthetic choices are intuitive yet intentional at the same time. This exhibit showcases happy mistakes, juxtapositions, and gestural art-making all at once. Reyle's materiality is put back to the forefront because he uses materials as an expressionistic gesture, rethinking what painting and sculpture can be. Reyle is not concerned with using traditional materials but instead is invested in using materials considered low-brow, especially in the vein of abstract expressionism.

The exhibit has eight new photographs, the artist's first time using this medium. The pieces are a gestural, abstract composition of hazy and simultaneously bright neon colors. They are from city streetlights like Times Square and Berlin, but with high shutter speeds to portray the lights in motion. There is a sense of spontaneity in the photographs-- much like the other pieces in the exhibit. Although Reyle didn't know how the lights and colors would turn out and look next to his older pieces, the results complement his signature styles well. The photographs add a new element to his extensive practice by using technology to evolve his practice of abstract expressionism. 

Anselm Reyle, Untitled, 2023, C-Print, wooden frame, 34.25 x 29.13 in, 87 x 74 cm, 35.43 x 30.31 in, 90 x 77 cm 

Abstract expressionism became popular in the 1950s after world war II primarily through paint. In the 70s though, artists began experimenting with different materials to make these abstract compositions. Originally, neon was a medium associated with advertisements and pop art until the 1960s when Dan Flavin, Joseph Kosuth, and Keith Sonnier revolutionized the medium. Like those artists before, Reyle used neon for its aesthetic quality and because it wasn't a traditional material in abstraction. For decades, abstract expressionism was very popular due to its versatility and aesthetic qualities. However, recently that popularity began to decrease. Some of the biggest emerging artists in recent years dealing with the figure. Figurative work was all over auctions, and some sold for millions. However, 2021 and 2022 saw a slight reversal in the trend, and abstract art is again on the rise, so it is no coincidence that Reyle's work is experiencing an increase in attention. The focus on abstraction has grown due to many institutions trying to diversify their exhibit programs. The Museum of Modern Art, Dia Beacon, and The Shed have had major shows on abstract artists, just to name a few. This growth in interest in this particular style is evident in the fact that several abstract artists are just starting to see high exposure in art fairs, new high-profile gallery representation, and auctions. It is too soon to say whether or not abstraction will out-compete figuration, but it's clear that Reyle is seeing new growth and evolution in his art practice and career. In 2023 he will have more solo shows at other major institutions in Berlin, Washington D.C., and China. WM


Brianna Beckham

Brianna Beckham is a multi-disciplinary visual artist, writer, and curator. 

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