"The Best Art In The World"
Michael Reeder: Pushing Up Daisies
November 10 through December 12, 2022
By ROBERT CURCIO, December 2022
Michael Reeder’s first solo exhibition with Allouche Gallery, Pushing Up Daisies, is a stunning full-on mashup of Pop Surrealism at its best. Reeder employs Pop’s mass production techniques and pleasant displacement with Surrealism’s provoking desires and shifting angst, next to a sense of duality between life and death, a heavy dose of noir neo-expressionism and a deep bite of dark humor. Reeder’s works demands our attention much the same way as Warhol’s Death & Disaster series does, not with horror, but a cool long glance.
In the summer of 2016 Reeder had a residency at the RedBull House of Art in Detroit when skulls became his main imagery. The skull is the oversaturated image throughout the exhibit either as the traditional Grim Reaper hanging out and holding a daisy in the wall installation Unseen Limousine, 2022, or as a hipster complete with a cigarette and backward baseball cap. For Reeder, the skull has become so pervasive that it is “everyone” – man or woman, young or old, past or present – in this opposition he has stripped the skull beyond bare bone to being vanished as some goth rocker’s trinket only to be reincarnated as a vessel of undermined meaning.
What Reeder does for an image, he does the same for the works themselves. I call the pieces in the exhibit “works” because they are not a painting or a sculpture or a print, but an assemblage of multiple layers of cut wood panels that are painted or printed and held together by a frame which is an integral part of the work. This combination of materials and techniques are in conflict as Reeder plays off each piece against another until it is revived as one work. This intuitive hands-on process of production is proof of life rather than just being another newly ready-to-hang bauble.
In Here Lies Man, 2022, a bright red skull with white highlights lies down on brown dirt next to two realistic three-dimensional little daisies while candy colored pink clouds float in a clear tranquil blue sky. The work is both aggressive with the viewer and the skull almost looking directly at each other while being seductively inviting. You cannot look away and ignore death just as much as the daisies draw you in and make you feel comfortable. Maybe you are lying down next to the skull taking a dirt nap?
A most curious work is Death Capsule, 2022, where an over sized image of a capsule or pill has one part in red of a faint white expressionless portrait of the artist seen right side up and the upside-down part of the capsule painted in a delicate blue with a skull. In the skull section gentle rolling greenish collaged clouds float as similarly colored clouds or plumes of smoke, again collaged, flow from the self-portrait’s eyes. The wood panel of the skull partially overlaps the self-portrait; not covering but more in a self-referential manner once again pushing the duality and making it personal. Two distinct separate parts come together in a snug fit creating a complete whole. Is this a mirror image of life and death in a familiar pill form? If so, what does that infer regarding the artist? Or maybe it is social commentary on death by pill overdose? The work is personal for the artist, but the image has a cool “matter of fact-ness” detachment to it. Still, it sent a chill down my back.
Just when I was liking the exhibition so very much, I read the release, NFTs were utilized in the production of the works. Do I really need to go down that rabbit hole? Thankfully no and it is easy to follow. Reeder ran his imagery through a computer program to create 5,000 individual characters (NFTs) that he collectively calls the Cyber Bandits. The first physical work based on this “collaboration” is Cyber Bandit #1220, 2022. This is the most straight forward, right in your face, work in the whole exhibition. There is no duality, no bright playful colors, no pretty daisies, no innuendo. Just a grey field with cut out flames, an amorphic black body and a cold hard white skull.
Not to be missed in the back of the gallery are similar but distinct works in series entitled Reaper, Deadman, Deadman Legion and Deadman Legion, Graff. They all use a similar image of the skull, that same amorphic body in a very traditional three-quarter portrait pose and are mass produced with unique hand touches to each work. Reaper and Deadman series have a cut wood panel with a skull as the panel is part painted plane of the work and frame that is open on the bottom right corner. The backgrounds for these works are hand painted in acrylic and spray paint that were used in the Cyber Bandits. Both Legion series are simplified, no multiple wood cut layers, just screen prints with acrylic on paper and a traditional frame. These are the “hipster” pieces with a few wearing a baseball cap, one smoking, a couple of them talking and all of them are kind of just chillin.
Easily missed is Flower Power, 2022, a wonderful way to end the exhibition and everything racing through Reeder’s works. It is a small work only 23 x 31 inches of a colorful wood cutout and collaged daisy gently bending in a breeze that blows away a few petals. It is seemingly a nice little kitschy playful painting, or is it? Consider the daisy’s shadow that is black, long, and stiff. The background was once brightly painted in a neo-abstract manner but is now covered with a mourning grey veil. The frame is also painted grey, making it a part of the work instead of a barrier between the art and the real life happening in front of the work. It is a bit nostalgic in its title referencing a part of American counterculture that has long been laid to rest. Or is the work and the whole exhibition about the “little death” as the daisy enjoys its last throws of passion? WM
Robert Curcio is a writer, curator, and consultant to art fairs and artists.view all articles from this author