18 Oct–17 Nov 2019
Press: Art in America
Helena Anrather is pleased to present Funny Business, a solo exhibition of new work by Douglas Rieger.
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Before the statues that would come to embody the ideals of classical beauty, there was an earlier, more material tradition of ancient Greek sculpture, one that emerged directly from the ground. Over the centuries, the piles of stones used to mark roadside shrines in prehistoric times evolved into the objects known as hermae, which evoked deities through a kind of indeterminate and fragmentary figuration. Somewhere between human figure and a rough-hewn stone, a herma was a body-sized column onto which only a head and genitals had been carved. Despite their abstraction, these objects were the focus of an intimate and bodily devotional practice, regularly anointed with oils and adorned with garlands of flowers.
Rieger’s work plays with a similar figural ambiguity and physical intimacy, recalling and exploring the primordial functions of sculpture. Never fully figurative but always deeply anthropomorphic, these works suggest bodies but also bodily contact. Their sinuous shapes—carved in wood, often oiled and polished to a glossy finish—simultaneously evoke the hands of the artist and invite the caress of the viewer. Yet these works also evince an uncannily contemporary sensibility. Rieger combines wood with materials both industrial and post-industrial—from concrete and rebar to medical-grade silicone. And he combines the eye of a finish-fetishist with the subversive curiosity of the bricoleur, drawing inspiration from a motley assortment of everyday detritus that includes everything from plumbing valves to door handles, light fixtures to shampoo bottles.
But above all, Rieger’s work is acutely contemporary in its exploration of the relationship between body and identity. If the hermae remind us that sculpture has always been about materials, bodies, and sex, Rieger shows us how all these things can become queer. At times shyly naughty, at others downright kinky, his pieces are crowded with bulging members and gaping orifices that do not conform to either the conventions of figuration or the logic anatomy. Rieger thinks of them as self-portraits, part of an ongoing process of self-discovery; their fundamental theme is the indeterminacy of identity, and they reveal that identity is not a category but a process always unfolding.
Douglas Rieger (b. 1984 Pittsburgh, PA) received his B.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008 and M.F.A. from Yale University School of Art in 2016. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Funny Business is his first solo exhibition in New York.