Anselm Reyle – Venus (2011)


In De Oude Warande, there is a Venus de Milo. Finished in brightly coloured and gleaming spray paint, this classical Greek sculpture appears only narrowly to have withstood the test of time and youngsters with spray cans. It is no longer an ideal image of classical sculpture that belongs in the Louvre, but a forgotten statue standing forlorn and abandoned in the park. In his reworking of one of the major sculptures of classical antiquity, Anselm Reyle (Tübingen, 1970, lives and works in Berlin) balances on the cusp of kitsch and cliché. These terms have frequently been applied to Reyle’s sculptures, paintings and reliefs – and with good reason. A bale of straw is finished with a shiny, silver layer of paint; a cart wheel is attached to a wall, with a blue neon light behind; oversized African masks, made for tourists, are given a brightly coloured, chrome finish; shiny plastic foil is used to create painterly reliefs.


This is only a small selection from Reyle’s immense oeuvre, which combines non-traditional materials, found objects and also the legacy of modernism. It was Reyle’s abstract ‘foil paintings’ that brought him an international reputation. Brightly coloured plastic foil is folded to create a monochrome image, or arranged in strips of purple, green and yellow in Perspex boxes. His use of the material results in an enticing visual interplay of light reflections, while the box in fact creates a sense of distance. The direct references to the high modernism of self-reflective monochrome paintings and Color Field painting receive a Pop Art-like futuristic, high-tech twist.


Just as Reyle employs existing styles of painting in his reliefs, modernist sculptural motifs form the starting point for his three-dimensional works. The work that Reyle presented ror Lustwarande ‘11 also played with this history and popular taste. It was Johann Joachim Winckelmann who, in the eighteenth century, was responsible for focusing on classical sculptural art as the ideal and establishing a position for it in European art history. However, while he emphasised the ‘noble simplicity and quiet grandeur’ of classical Greek sculpture, Reyle appears to strip this style away from its history and to employ it as a decorative prop that has been incorporated into modern popular taste. Not only can the Venus de Milo be found in many souvenir shops, it has also served as inspiration for artists such as Man Ray and Salvador Dali. In Dali’s version, the subconscious is depicted in the form of a number of drawers protruding from the body. All that separated us from the invincible Greeks, according to Dali, was Sigmund Freud, who showed that the body and the soul are full of secret drawers that can only be opened by psychoanalysis. Reyle believes that it is our own cultural history that is full of secrets. His reuse of existing motifs is not so much an ironic comment on contemporary artistic production, but a serious interest in the possibilities of these forms, which have been appropriated by popular culture. For Reyle, kitsch and cliché are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the contemporary art world.
Laurie Cluitmans / translation Laura Watkinson