Matt Reiner Embedded within those compositions are different ways in which the world is available to those people.
By Mary Truong September 20th, 2020
When Matt Reiner recounts a recent visit to the Met’s Arms and Armor exhibit, his primary takeaway is what it means to be inside a suit of armor. He describes it as a sort of “dialectic” between “complete invulnerability” and “incapacity”— although armor may protect its wearer, it also immensely restrains them. In a different recollection about art, Reiner describes 19th century landscape paintings from his childhood home: he says that they were “boring” paintings but also that the boredom was compelling, that the plainness of those compositions resulted in a “passivity or receptiveness” that became almost “contemplative.”
“Embedded within those compositions are different ways in which the world is available to those people.”
Reiner has an interest in what it means to be inside an artwork, whether it be a suit of armor or prosaic scenery paintings. When Reiner expresses his distaste for Damien Hirst’s works, apart from criticizing the obviously moneyed aspect of Hirst’s practice, Reiner notes that his aversion comes from how “it’s very closed off. There’s nothing available for me.” It seems that Reiner is always seeking entrances into artwork, and this mannerism is especially pronounced when he describes looking at paintings. He explains, “I just started to feel things when I looked at paintings. … The specificity of those feelings was different from the specificity of the feelings of other art. It felt like I could understand the person who was making the composition… why the composition was structured a certain way, why the paint looked a certain way…”
“What’s the difference between a Jackson Pollock and a Raphael?”
For Reiner, these formal aspects of a painting are undergirded by “broader social/historical/political structures” that “in very concrete ways inform how the composition unfolds, the way you are allowed to enter a composition… the way in which things show up.” How he describes examining a painting corresponds to how an archaeologist might try to understand a past society: what are the existent artifacts; what are the structures (social or otherwise) that could result in these artifacts; what does this say about the world? The world, in this case, is the very private world of the painting and the artist composing it.
With all this careful consideration of painting, it is unsurprising to reveal that Reiner deems himself a painter. He says that being specific to this medium gives him “stability to think about my own interiority and sense of history for myself.” There seems to be a relationship between Reiner acting as a viewer and Reiner acting as an artist; in both positions, he concerns himself with accessing interiority. As a viewer, he tries to understand the world of the painter captured in the process of painting by entering himself into the painting’s interiority. As an artist, Reiner says, “My work doesn’t expose itself into a realm of sociality. … It’s not attempting to speak for other people. It’s not trying not to be representative.” In other words, Reiner’s practice is small and intimately of himself.
“It’s about this kind of closeness and this kind of distance. ”
Reiner admits that there’s an escapist quality to how he approaches art. Of course, he understands that art reflects the outside world, but by occupying himself with the interiority of a painting (or his interiority through a painting), he gains a measure of distance from the pressures of reality. He is happy to accept art in this manner. “What I think art should do is remind us that we’re alive and that we’re not just trying to instrumentalize everything to dominate other things.” Art doesn’t need to be a tool to apply power or pressure on something (though it can be used that way); art can be a painting of how light reflects off a picture of tulips.
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