I suspect Douglas Rieger may have done some cleaning before I visit because his studio, a space in which great quantities of wood are regularly pulverized, is implausibly picturesque. There are established codes of sculpture studio-dressing: hand planes are sexier than orbital sanders; antique spokeshaves are more romantic than angle grinders; tools scattered about are more alluring than tools tidily stored; and works early in development, ugly ducklings that they are, should be hidden from sight. Rieger gets checks across the board. Constantin Brancusi was so good at turning his workspace into an idyll of aestheticized labor that it was reconstructed in the Pompidou Center in toto, with adz leaning as though just put down and a small throng of almost-finished sculptures posing with calibrated casualness. Artful organization is also one of the centers of Rieger’s practice. His wall works are disciplined arrays of ready-made and fabricated objects that suggest a sadomasochistic fetish for order and control. His floor, however, is strewn with sculptures seemingly made by his other self, the self which is in improvisatory flux. Bifurcated restlessness extends from his work to his person. When we meet, he is dressed in flame-embroidered pants and an udder-pink tank top, but sports the crew cut of a naval officer.
On greeting, Rieger leads me through a gauntlet of works prepared for his solo show at Capsule Gallery. His Greenpoint studio is expansive by the square-inch measurements of Brooklyn, a reaped reward of his recent run of solo shows at Helena Anrather and Frieze. Down the hall a second wing is occupied by his partner, the artist Antonia Kuo.
A bleached wood sculpture keeps pulling me inward. A bit taller and perhaps a bit more internally disorganized than the average human, the gravity of its scale is leavened by moments of ostentatious sloppiness and humorous asides as phallic cylinders rudely interrupt the potency of the central form. White paint is splashed loosely where it might have been applied neatly. Elsewhere, the wood has been brought to a glistening, finely sanded finish. A structurally critical dowel extends erratically outward from the base to the floor as though stability arrived as a sudden afterthought. All manners of touch are present—the attentive, the slapdash, the tender, the aborted, the beaten.
Behind this sculpture are several of Rieger’s wall works. They gather string, pieces of bedsprings, plastic cones of unidentifiable origin, etc., on a background of tensioned vinyl sheeting. The sexual charge and the repulsively synthetic materials generate contrary currents of attraction and repulsion. They seem like geomantic props in a rigorously systemized graphical grammar of textures, colors, and sheens. This is not so much coded art as it is art as code—ciphers that succeed in proportion to their inscrutability. The more mysterious, the less legible their referents, the more they resonate with unnerving eeriness.
Douglas Rieger: Concealer is on view at Capsule Gallery in Shanghai until September 3.
Brecht Wright Gander is a sculptor and furniture maker based in New Jersey. Recent group shows include Nomad: Capri, Italy and Kleureyck, a traveling exhibition by the Design Museum Ghent, in Lille, France, and Ghent, Belgium. Solo exhibitions include The Luminous Body at Objective Gallery in Shanghai.
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