New York

Tobias Rehberger

In the early part of this century, the Bauhaus and de Stijl endeavored to conjoin art, architecture, and design in order to reorganize—not merely aestheticize—everyday life according to unified ideological and formal principles. A distant inheritor of their ideas, Tobias Rehberger, is more absorbed in fabricating postideological hybrid objects that have the capacity to reveal the sensuous, pleasurable, and intellectually provocative underpinnings of such cross—pollinations.

Rehberger’s vocabulary might be characterized as alternately object-based and installation-oriented. He invokes the codes of Minimalism and post-Minimalism, using an expanded sense of painting along with ambient video effects, while also flirting with notions of utility. It is evident that he would like the category of his works to remain ambiguous. Rehberger, in fact, seems enchanted with the notion that subtle changes to the received structures of our cultural environments can elicit visually poetic resonances.

In 1997’s “Rooms with a View: Environments for Video” at the Guggenheim Museum, for instance, Rehberger wrapped suspended TV monitors in delicate yellow cocoonlike forms, infusing depersonalized hardware with a cool organicism evocative of ’70s late moderne. At “SITE Santa Fe,” he designed a platform for the contemplation of a specific painting to amplify fundamental rituals of viewing. In this, his most recent show, the artist took his exploration of the “performing object” in a more outwardly theatrical and formally whimsical direction, using the work of vanguard European fashion designers as the formal and conceptual inspiration for three ensembles that function as stage sets.

Helmut Lang’s irrefutably suave clothes are the basis for Performance (Frame One) (all works 1997). A camel wool coat, camel pants, and beige polyester shirt, all from Lang’s Winter 1997/98 collection, are set neatly folded in front of a wall made from geometrically shaped components of particle board painted in light natural tones to match the costume; fluorescent lights breathe coldly from behind this artificial structure. Performance (Frame Two) features Walter van Beirendonk’s weirdly synthetic clothing—including a pair of transparent plastic over pants and a polyester swan-print shirt—that spill across five mushroomlike seating elements covered in pastel-colored spandex, while the living environment of Performance (Frame Three) is built around the deconstructivist clothing of Belgian designer Martin Margiela. In these works, the appropriated clothes “perform” themselves as surrogates for the body into their tailored environments, while the viewers are, implicitly, asked to “perform” themselves into the clothing—and by extension, into the artist’s environments. Playfulness, complexity, superficiality, beauty, formal indulgence, and intuitive structuring are all simultaneously at work within Rehberger’s tdiosyncratic language.

Fusing utility and theatricality, The Missing Colors references the spatial and atmospheric coordinates of a bedroom. Shut off the intense lights, and there unfolds against the walls a continuously modulating projection of abstract “swatches” of lusciously transparent colors, among other elements. Potentially usable as a real bedroom, and not merely a futuristic-retro simulacrum, the space aims to lull the viewer into meditation or slumber; yet the circular, couchlike structure of lacquered wood that seems the central lure turns out to be hard as a rock. Does Rehberger expect the hypothetical user of this bedroom to contribute a circular mattress? The artist’s finely tuned paradoxes make his deviously hedonistic ensembles irresistible.

Joshua Decter