A Place Only Possible in Painting: David Reed in Bonn
Report from…. Bonn, Germany
David Reed Heart of Glass: Paintings and Drawings 1967-2012 at the Kunstmuseum Bonn
June 28 to October 7, 2012
The generous – or, it could equally be said, overwhelming – skylit galleries of Bonn’s Kunstmuseum abound with natural light. In clear opposition to any classical use of such large white cubes, David Reed has installed his work with an impassive experience in mind. Some disturbance, it can be assumed, is desired to avoid each work becoming simply a Modernist trophy, a reliquary of pure formalist shape and color. Indeed, abstraction for Reed is very much connected to experiences of the real world.
In the central gallery – from which all others can be accessed and are frequently within view – long horizontal paintings with white grounds, appear as if subject to centrifugal force. One of them hugs the only corner of the gallery that is not also part doorway, while several others reach the end of a wall at the entrance/exit points. This induces a feeling of movement in rotation. With so much of the gallery wall free and with the gestural element of each painting itself on a white ground, the paintings seem to expand to incorporate the walls, rendering the gestures into a kind of graffiti that unites the pictorial with the architectural.
In #457, 1999–2000, the transparent green arabesque sweeping in from the right vertical edge of a two thirds empty, horizontal white canvas looks as if it could equally be in a state of evaporation or condensation. Either way, it remains a fluid line of buckle and curl. The arrangement of paintings, installed as they are, do not so much echo the rectangular elements often found within the paintings as iterate their unbalance. Expectations of settled spatial relationships and composition are challenged inside the paintings through unstable geometries as well as color. The way they are placed here accentuates that instability.
Each gallery is made to feel very distinct by the selective groupings of work. For example, working drawings in one room,, paintings of related color in another, landscape paintings and a video in a third. Reed and his curator have obviously not opted for a linear, chronological path. In fact, in viewing much of Reed’s work from the 1980s onwards, presumptions of chronological time quickly become estranged, undermined as they are, by the fugitive action of chromatic effects and subtle material layering. The reds and greens of #617, 2003–2011 are translucent and contain, as well as capture, subtle shifts of light (an effect of the fluctuating levels of actual daylight). The folds of color add to the Baroque energy of a turning and flexing motion.
As real to the eye as it is fictive to thought, the effect here of Reed’s color and surface establishes a place only possible in painting. The physical layering of paint – its removal sometimes leaving an abraded surface in contrast to areas of paint applied by brush or knife and left as is – leaves time running in both directions. This process occurs in unknown sequence, directing us away from the certainties of unmediated paint accumulations. Often this feels unsettling and dynamic – like the staggered freeze-framing of the explosion in Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970). Such a sense of this fractured cinematic process of delay and acceleration is typified in # 350, 1996, its color seeming to expand, both floating and falling in and across the painted surface.
Landscapes from the 1960s (painted in situ at Monument Valley) and a series of black and white paintings made during the mid-1970s that reference the scale and movement of the hand and arm make Reed’s early trajectory clear. Sometimes an artist – Jasper Johns comes to mind – seeks to erase the works prior to the epiphany that got them on the right track where others, like Reed, continue to focus on an approach to their subject from the start, excavating and building as they go. The black and white paintings consist of horizontally brushed black lines, each line a hand’s width and the length of Reed’s arm at maximum extension. The black is seen merging downwards into still wet white paint. This bodily gesture is gradually absorbed over the years until a dialectic of inside and outside is achieved – a mind thinking with the results of a body doing. It is not unlike Jackson Pollock’s desire for painting to be the landscape and for him to be part of that – not for him to be making a description of something distinctly other.
The Searchers, 2007 is a video that samples silhouetted figures from the closing minutes of John Ford’s 1956 film of the same name (shot in Monument Valley) together with close up surface images of Reed’s own paintings. But instead of the great outdoors of the American West, the film’s title song is now heard drifting through the expanses of the Kunstmuseum, Bonn.