New York

Milo Reice

Barbara Toll Fine Arts

Art as a means of communication can be traced back in time to its roots as a narrative form. The paintings of Milo Reice have always possessed something of the simple charms of storytelling, for which art as illustration has persevered throughout the ages. The narrative structure of Reice’s work, in its straightforward description and symbol-laden imagery, most closely resembles that of the fable. The moral tone and esthetic design of the fable have become so embedded in our cultural text that Reice has little difficulty in signaling these to the viewer as deliberate strategies in his own work. The paintings thus acquire the power of suggestion, but the reading is not as clear as one might expect.

Because Reice sets his scenes in imaginative bursts of wild colors and crazy-quilt patterns, we do not take the representation that is an active ingredient in his “realism” at face value. While each scene easily justifies itself with the atmosphere and sensual seductiveness it offers on a purely picturesque level, there is something so contrived and self-conscious in its organization that it works upon the imagination much like a shorthand signifier of myth. Each scenario is so open-ended that it must be but a part of a larger story—a story that we are assumed to know, for why else would it be abbreviated into such an incomplete piece? In this way, the cryptic represents a legend—in both meanings of the term, as mythological story and as explanatory code. While Reice gets across the mood and message of the parable, his subtext deconstructs both the specifics of its narrative and the larger formula of the generic fable. In his variations on the classical tale of Pygmalion—Pygmalion and Startling Weird & Astounding Tales: Pygmalion—a study, both 1986—the amusing eccentricities in Reice’s revision reinvent the dynamics of the original in an alternate reality of manifestly personal terms. These twice-told tales thus end up serving more the artist’s self-expression than the universality supposedly guaranteed by myths.

In most of the works shown here, however, Reice does not rely on well-known myths and stories as he has often done in the past. These scenes of interpersonal theatrics and space-age melodrama are not quotations of any comprehensible text, not solvable fragments of a completable puzzle. The aura of significance, of a concrete, complete, and logical reality, that Reice’s art seems to possess, takes on a hauntingly bizarre indefinability when we understand these works as not anchored to any particular tale, any predictable moral. By not attaching them to literary fables (Aesop, Homer, etc.), and by not telling us the whole story, he is letting us discover much more than any single truth. Every picture Reice invents is an experience, perhaps not a part of a narrative sequence of events but a believable and enrapturing moment nonetheless. These work because they knit together the elements of literary belief, combining indivisible parts of fantasy and ordinary experience. Here the artist does not give any ultimate answers, but shifts between the planes of the mundane and the extraordinary.

Carlo McCormick