Before describing the work of Joe Reihsen on display at the Anat Ebgi gallery, I should point out that I had no knowledge of this exhibition prior to walking in. The galleries along La Cienega comprise a three block long box of chocolates, and Anat Ebgi is likely the most unassuming. To the left of the lobby (which I had first assumed was the only room, leaving me to exhibit the body language of a trespasser) is a room of objects hung flat against the walls. Though they are certainly about paint, I hesitate to call them paintings.
They were initially as beguiling to me as an unannounced magic trick. I went to mental images of comically large brushes - perhaps even hand brooms - and paint so coarse and stubborn that it might be a concrete aggregate. After getting dangerously close to each object, I can report with some certainty that Reihsen treats real paint as glue while disguising thin and flimsy paper as gobs of hardened paint. However, where paper begins and paint ends, I am still unwilling to posit.
Reihsen’s objects, when grouped with those of his adopted colleagues (such as Laura Owens and Tauba Auerbach), typifies the next and only logical step in paintings about paint: to be made by an unknown process and within an unguessable amount of time.
To trace a narrow history of abstract painting, consider the prolific work of an earlier generation. Many were labeled as ‘action paintings’ if only for the fact that the viewing audience could infer on some level their individual methods of production. Rodney Graham tilted canvasses to apply buckets of monochrome paint in the comfort and pajamas of his own home; Jay Defeo really did heap gobs of paint until she produced thick and heavy solids weighing upwards of a ton; even Gerhard Richter’s squeegee paintings, each complex and carefully layered, are embedded with the inherent aesthetic of scraping. These artists created work about painting just as Reihsen and his peers do now, but theirs was an exploration of the tangible qualities of paint, not in the aim of mystifying but rather clarifying.
The new generation of abstract painters has successfully kept a distance from its predecessors, and Reihsen’s newest exhibit reaps the benefits.