New York

Richard Rezac, Chigi, 2017, painted maple, cast Hydrocal, aluminum, 45 × 69 × 43".

Richard Rezac, Chigi, 2017, painted maple, cast Hydrocal, aluminum, 45 × 69 × 43".

Richard Rezac

Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

For his solo exhibition “Pleat,” Richard Rezac transformed the gallery into a cabinet of wonders. All fourteen of the objets d’art on display—two mobiles, two stabiles, and ten wall pieces—were curious constructions, at once eccentric and rarefied. His sculptures occasionally call to mind pieces by Alexander Calder in their formal inventiveness, but are more gnomic and, of course, less monumental. Each work is crafted from an ingenious combination of contradictory materials, such as hard inorganic metal or cement (aluminum, bronze, Hydrocal) and soft organic wood (cherry, maple, pine), the dialectical conundrums suggesting the inherent absurdity of art by reason of its alienness to lived experience, its remoteness from reality.

Rezac’s Zeno, 2021—a rectangular, wall-mounted object made from a waxed pine panel and three slabs of cast bronze—is named after Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea and, to my mind, was the show’s touchstone. Zeno’s “dichotomy paradox” tells us that when an object is divided into two halves, the whole of it must correspond to one half or the other, indicating that while these elements are indeed complementary, they are essentially opposites because each part cannot be fundamentally alike. I believe that Rezac’s works demonstrate an artistic truth within Zeno’s concept, for virtually all of the sculptures in this recent show were marriages of form and color that were interrelated yet antipodal. Take the sky-blue and milky-orange sections of Chigi, 2017, a peculiar floor-based sculpture that looks like a pair of reconfigured guardrails. In one region of the piece, tangerine posts mingle with their cerulean counterparts—difference and similarity are simultaneous and inseparable. Chigi alludes to the Chigi Chapel in Rome, hence the work’s cloudlike component, rendered in a virginal white and supporting one side of the structure. But Rezac strips the church of its lavish Baroque ornamentation to reveal some kind of essential truth behind the edifice’s glorious facade. His work is an homage to traditional art as well as a repudiation (or even a trivialization) of it, for its heavenly cloud is no more than a footstool on which one leg of his colorful work rests.

Something analogous occurs in Rezac’s white, gray, and minty-green Laterano (panel), 2016, which obliquely references Rome’s Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, the oldest house of worship in the city, the seat of the pope, and a World Heritage site. Rezac’s small object certainly cuts the cathedral—and with it the Catholic Church—down to size. Of course, one wouldn’t realize that the artist was referring to this important, magnificent building without the title. Similarly, Chigi, Pamphili, 2019, seems to be a mocking attack on Rome’s Villa Doria Pamphili, another grand structure, here flattened to a plane, swatches of gingham fabric, and some lumpy yellow figures, all of which were suspended from the gallery’s ceiling. The piece is a sculptural will-o’-the-wisp, a mirage with no credibility—just as the aristocratic Chigi and Pamphili families, who were great patrons of the arts, are no more than ghostly names today, fusty old labels on grand architectural creations.

One might say that Rezac deflates the legacies of traditional art and architecture by treating them as occasions for paradoxical speculation. His works are not presentations of romantic dreams—feelings do not flow through his objects—but cold-blooded dissections of the body of art, with its fragmentary, diminished remains on display, stitched together so as to retain some semblance of dignity. In this presentation, we could not locate the noble aspirations or spiritual ambitions that went into creating and erecting, say, the Chigi Chapel. Rezac’s sculptures are neither beautiful nor sublime but are catalysts for thought and critique, which is to their credit—they are fine examples of clever art.