Art Criticism

Reena Spaulings: Courbet Your Enthusiasm

Reena Spaulings: Enigma 10 (following the opening of Takashi Murakami at Brooklyn Museum) (2008), in Courbet Your Enthusiasm (Chantal Crousel, 2008).
Exhibition review published in ArtReview (London), no. 26, October 2008, p. 165.

The popular US sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which Seinfeld creator/executive producer Larry David plays an exaggerated version of his bipolar self, is some kind of reference for the exhibition Courbet Your Enthusiasm, which stars a consortium of dealer(s) and artist(s) operating under the fictional guise of Reena Spaulings.

In fact, Reena Spaulings is the name of a gallery, Reena Spaulings Fine Art, opened in 2004 in New York City by John Kelsey and Emily Sundblad. The gallery took its name from the main protagonist of an eponymous book coauthored by the members of international collective Bernadette Corporation (which happens to be represented by the gallery). Kelsey and Sundblad are also the primary instigators of fictional artist Reena Spaulings. Reena Spaulings the gallery and Reena Spaulings the artist are interchangeable. Some artists that the gallery actually represents may take part now and then in giving Reena Spaulings (gallery and fictional artist) a body of work and an ironic spirit (rather than an actual definable style).

The ensemble of works exhibited at Chantal Crousel (all works 2008) includes a lot of trash (literally) and derision, and many (awful) paintings, celebrating Reena Spaulings’ bipolar identity. The gallery’s walls are dressed up with recent additions of Enigmas, an ongoing series, begun in 2005, that features stained tablecloths stretched on the walls like paintings – the dirty remains of past openings and dinners, whose hosts are named in the titles (Artforum, Brooklyn Museum, etc). A few paintings cynically revisit genres – such as still life, in Nature Morte Vivante, depicting a dish of oysters (which are eaten alive, as we know) – or historical schools such as Pointillism, in the series Dans la rue, New Museum (featuring Pointillist representations of the New Museum in New York). Finally, two lightboxes have pride of place in the middle of the gallery floor. The first, Courbet Your Enthusiasm (AFA), illuminates a random photograph of an artistic gathering scanned from Colin De Land: American Fine Arts, a 2008 book about the dealer Colin De Land, who died in 2003 and was known for his ambivalence towards the art market. The second, Danica, illuminates the scan of an autographed photo of the American female racing-driver Danica Patrick: it is an image of pride and battle.

What, though, is Reena Spaulings’ battle ? Is it a battle or a rather cynical experiment to exploit and celebrate the superficiality of a system that attaches more importance to a work’s monetary value that to its actual worth? While mocking the dealer/artist relationship by unifying them completely, Reena Spaulings never attempts to redifine the market’s rules. How far can the farce go?

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