Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rachel Schmidhofer

Is it Christmas in March?!! It's actually Christmas all year round in Rachel's studio.
Pussy in a tree!!!
   Rachel never had Christmas trees growing up since she was raised Jewish.The cultural lens each of us looks through can effect the way we interpret the meaning behind something even as banal as a Christmas tree. The compulsion driving Rachel to paint these trees is intriguing, and her project would take on an entirely different meaning if she were Christian, but by having grown up in a different tradition, Rachel is removed and detached from the original cultural connotations of the iconography she borrows from. On the surface, these Christmas paintings seem to contain a celebratory feeling of pleasure and delight, but there is also a somber sense of an outsider looking in, just as in a Toulouse-Lautrec painting; the artist is not participating in the joviality but instead depicting it.
     Rachel's paintings reminded me of Klara Lidén's installation of discarded Christmas trees at Reena Spaulings last year. Lidén filled the entire gallery with trees that she had picked up off the streets of New York and placed a couch in the space for the viewer to breathe in the heavy smell of pine and to ruminate over the evergreen funeral ground. My friend Brent, recommended I go see that show, and it turned out to be one of the most haunting shows I saw all year. I felt uneasy being surrounded by these dying, beautiful trees that had been flippantly cut down for a few weeks of folly. How easily the entire room could have gone up in flames with a mere flick of a lighter! My thoughts surrounded the anticipation and hopes for happiness that so often go unfulfilled during the holiday season, and the resulting anticlimactic sadness after the holidays. Joy always seems to happen spontaneously, it's never anything anyone can go looking or planning for. 
Rachel's objects reinforce this almost childlike sense of wonder and magic present in her paintings, which reminds me of Karen Klimnik's paintings and installations. In all of Klimnik's work the lifeless cult of reason is suspended, and the rules of fairytales are instead favored. Rachel's objects perform similarly but often contain a more surreal, and internalized logic, unlike Klimnik who references folklore, pop cultural icons, and whose work abounds in art historical references. 
Much of Rachel's work integrates rococo opulence with everyday objects. There is a welcoming populist accessibility within this all this decadence and it doesn't seem to be concerned with ivory tower exclusivity. Here, Rachel combines two separate puzzles with different images printed on them, that share the same pieces as well as amount of pieces, and creates an entirely new image out of them. Although in theory all the pieces should fit perfectly into this new puzzle, some pieces refuse to fit so seamlessly or even fit at all, just as in life.

Aside from being a clever conceptual idea, there is a potent metaphor that emerges within this series that addresses the complexities and mysteries of existence that go beyond the limitations of our own level of understanding.

This poignant sculpture was my favorite object in Rachel's studio. Rachel found this damaged lawn ornament and reassembled it. Through the act of picking up a broken and discarded object and giving it a new life, Rachel imbued the piece with heart wrenching beauty.

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