If Scott Reeder doesn’t eat a ton of spaghetti, some of his work at least alludes to it. You will certainly see spaghetti — graphic remnants of it anyways. Reeder, a Chicago favorite and SAIC Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing, gets his very first solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art this winter for the Chicago Works series. With a site-specific painting installed and a selection of works on the third floor galleries, the MCA showcases Reeder’s anecdotal style until January 24.
Enter through the front doors and you’re confronted with the behemoth 25-by-14 foot untitled painting created specifically for the exhibit. The black-blue canvas is heavily laden with hay-straw-yellow and strewn with innumerable random thin, white lines. The underlying blue and yellow hues pulsate just underneath the surface of pick-up-sticks. A weighty push/pull between the gray-black ground and straight-white-line inundates the senses much the way Jackson Pollock’s “Lavender Mist” does. Reeder not only references the modern masters, he simultaneously emulates and pokes fun at them, using 50 pounds of dry spaghetti in the process.
In the upstairs gallery, the viewer is confronted with several witty, narrative paintings. Reeder encourages the audience to see both the intellect and naiveté inherent in the images through the rebellious actions of the abstracted figures. “The Smoking Orange” might be blowing off steam after a hard day at the mill. The blue dot and dollar bill in bed relax in post-coital bliss before one has to tell the other just how good the sex was. “The Symmetrical Pirate” — with double hooks, parrots and eye patches — perches precariously on his twin peg legs, unsure how to cope with life, yet continuing to challenge the viewer despite his handicaps. There is the almost-monochromatic “Protesting Pandas” — who are angry at who-knows-what. Drunk and mischievous plants inhabit a few works as well.
The exhibit also includes several humorous “idea lists” compiled by they artist to tickle your fancy, as well as a screening of Reeder’s first feature-length film about a moon-based resort aptly titled “Mood Dust.” The most tangible and subtle work seems to be the recent spaghetti-infused abstract paintings. Reeder has figured out more than one way to incorporate the pasta dish into his toolkit with a harmoniously dynamic style.
Using strictly boiled noodles to guide one large-scale piece, Reeder instigates a melodious randomness familiar in much of the best abstract expressionist works from the New York School of the mid-20th century. There is the familiar push/pull of white lines — this time squiggly, random and clustering — as prepared pasta gets a taste of life as a stencil. Imagine the artist flinging damp macaroni across his canvases in much the same way Pollock dripped paint or Twombly flittered brushes — an included video provides insight to the entire process.
Reeder’s first solo museum show is thoughtful and coherent with impactful work that showcases not only a humorous intellect but also an appreciation for the long lineage of painters before him. The subtlety found in the spaghetti abstracts works as well as the face slaps of the semi-formal portraits of anthropomorphic objects engaged in vice. Reeder not only challenges the very conventions of art history, he champions them for his own use, making his audience hungry for more in the process.