Critics’ Picks

View of  “Peter Wächtler: Help Me Buddy,” 2014.

View of “Peter Wächtler: Help Me Buddy,” 2014.

New York

Peter Wächtler

Reena Spaulings Fine Art | New York
165 East Broadway 2nd Floor
December 14, 2014–January 25, 2015

Something is wrong with the centurions. They’re struggling beneath the royal box seating’s canopy. So why are the attendants still fanning the throne with peacock feathers? And have none of them seen the giant wheel the rest of the coliseum’s audience is fleeing—belonging, it seems, to a divine chariot crashing the mortals’ race? There are no explanations here for this or any of the other narratives implied in Peter Wächtler’s watercolors on display at Reena Spaulings. Neither for the row of plaster busts depicting unnamed people at the rear wall of the gallery (all works untitled, 2014). The insight that this show exploits is that the monument itself invents the story.

Go watch the video dominating the gallery—or rather, listen to it, since it is just a monologue voiced over banal landscape footage (as with the entire show, the elliptical connection between formal elements comically abstracts the viewer’s tendency to fill in the blanks)—and you will see what is so excellent about this artist. Wächtler is a narrative virtuoso, but his use of virtuosity is conceptually deliberate. He initiates a moment then disavows it, an antimodernist lesson in how to charm with silence—none of the lonely-partygoer, cornering real talk of an artist who insists on attenuating one idea into a series (or a novel—don’t neglect the collection of hyperabbreviated short stories that accompanies the exhibition: it’s the funniest book of 2014).