Thursday, October 11, 2007

Matthew Miller reviews Lucas Reiner

Matthew, Pocket Utopia's intern and the "post-studio" artist in resident coordinator and curatorial assistant, has written a review of the current show, Lucas Reiner, below:

At the second ever Pocket Utopia show in Bushwick, a mid-career L.A. artist sheds light on the heavy-handed habits of his city’s municipal tree-trimming efforts.

Over the course of the past few decades, an wide assortment of trees have been imported from exotic international locations to the star-studded concrete desert of L.A. Lucas Reiner, a painter and photographer, takes note of the peculiar, if somewhat perverse, nature of the program. These adopted trees are nourished by the city’s acid rain and limited fertile soil. However, Mother Nature has never been much of a pushover, so many of the exotic transplants blossom into a gorgeous height and fullness despite the poor conditions of city living. Go trees.

Of course, city municipal workers - green thumbs with chainsaws – occasionally roll around pragmatically hacking the hard-nosed trees into overgrown bonsai formations. Reiner is satisfied to document the curious spectacle and integrate it into his art practice.

The show takes a contemporary multi-media format: a short film, a wall-sized computer print, a painting, and an editioned series of small hand-worked gocco prints. Reiner takes up the documentary role in the film (a survey flick of short clips dubbed over with elegant Walt Whitman prose) and the wall print (a banal shot of a tired tree pinned to a neighboring industrial building). The editioned print depicts a tree in litho-black silhouette against the atmospheric backdrop of hand-painted blue and gold hues. However, the centerpiece and strength of the exhibit is the large painting.

The painting is as puzzling as the phenomena of the city’s tree project. Most of the large-scale panel is rigorously worked up from it’s slightly visible underpainting into a texture which nearly evokes a sublime bluish ether, but is upstaged by the decorative surface resolution. The deftly painted tree with its thick branches—slashed and overgrown with new spring leaves—appears stamped onto the stylized ground. The collage idiom and the paint handling create a potent visual tension central to the work. Reiner mediates the molested tree with a setting in which it remains fundamentally displaced. Maybe the city is the only suitable habitat for this exiled tree. Or perhaps this tree is a metaphor, a sort of delegate, for our negotiations with the natural world. Go trees.

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