Pranks.com posted the Speed Art Museum’s latest exhibition, “Werner Reiterer: Raw Loop,” in its “art pranks” section. I asked Julien Robson, the Speed’s Curator of Contemporary Art and long-time friend of the artist, what he thought Reiterer’s reaction would be. “Werner would rather enjoy that,” he said, smiling. “He likes the sense of subversion and creating other levels of meaning.”
Reiterer is an Austrian who bases his work on communication and perception. He doesn’t explain what it’s about, nor does he see himself having a particular artistic style. But what you see is not what you get — he’s toying with us in a good-natured way. “We come with expectations,” Robson explained. “Werner interprets what we think things are and breaks up expectations.
“He utilizes the absurd. It’s a sense of like the chandelier downtown (outside of 21c Museum Hotel’s Proof on Main restaurant, Reiterer’s only work in a public collection in America). It’s aesthetically beautiful, then people’s reaction is the stand is rather ugly …. But after a while you start to recognize the lamppost is a gallows. So there are these kind of levels that he draws you into the work, allowing you time to think about it.”
The exhibition is Reiterer’s first solo show in an American museum. Some of the sculptural installations are interactive and collaborative, just like the chandelier.
“I’ve been taking someone around for an hour, and it’s amazing how people are using this (exhibition),” Robson said. “It’s a way to think how actually we use art, not passively sitting in front of it, we’re actually engaging with it. And looking is a form of interpretation, isn’t it? What does this thing mean, how do I make sense of it? That’s a nice entry to Werner’s work.”
The work that’s getting the most buzz is, “I Thought it’s an Idea but it’s my Brain.” A mannequin of Reiterer is in a tub, head cocked to the side, steam coming out of his ear. As you walk by the piece, a sensor in front activates a steam machine underneath the tub.
“So you see the steam coming out — it’s sort of ‘ha ha,’ but then you read the title and there comes another level of absurd humor,” Robson said.
A main difference between Reiterer’s European and American versions is the censorship of profanity. “Come closer to leave” consists of loudspeakers with sensors that judge the distance of the viewer. When you’re 16 feet from the work, it has a welcoming tone, but get 6 feet from it and insults are blasted. “Americans pretend profanity doesn’t exist ….” Robson said. “The bleeping out of words seems weirder to Europeans.”
A moving, non-interactive piece is “Jesus at home.” Consisting of iconic objects like the halo, it portrays the human side of Jesus. Robson revealed there have been no reported negative reactions to the sculpture.
This is Robson’s last exhibition at the museum. He’s leaving July 4 to take a job in Philadelphia. He’ll be giving a free talk on “Raw Loop” at 6 p.m. on June 19. In a fitting farewell, “I Thought it’s an Idea but it’s my Brain” has been purchased for the museum in Robson’s honor.
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‘Werner Reiterer: Raw Loop’
Through June 29
Speed Art Museum
2035 S. Third St.