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Art

Did Michael Riedel Just Make Microsoft’s PowerPoint Cool?

By Stephanie Murg

February 20, 2013

The singing telegram is alive and well on West 19th Street. Art lovers were summoned to the opening reception for Michael’s Riedel’s solo show at David Zwirner, “PowerPoint,” on view through March 23, not only with traditional invitations — analog and digital — but also in song. The Frankfurt-based artist commissioned indie-electro duo Woog Riots to set the invitation to music, and a CD containing the infectious tune was affixed to each exhibition card.

With his focus on publication and production, Riedel sees show cards (along with paintings, posters, books, catalogues, brochures, and other ephemera) as part of his artistic practice. Zwirner printed a series of 21 different cards and a framed and signed set occupies a wall of the exhibition. Each card shows an image of an animated PowerPoint transition (the ubiquitous Microsoft program includes options such as Checkerboard Down, Dissolve, and Wipe Up) frozen between two of Riedel’s “Poster Paintings,” his first shown at Zwirner in 2011. “I was sure that I wanted to show 21 possibilities, not too many, and then I thought OK, what about the backside of the card?” he said in an interview at the gallery. “There should be something going on with that information as well.”

Riedel’s decision to commission his friends to make a peppy, lo-fi track out of the exhibition details makes perfect sense once you enter the installation, where Riedel’s new “PowerPoint Paintings” are displayed against wallpaper featuring patterns from individual “Poster Paintings.” The walls of the cavernous space pulse with a graphic mix: text set in Arial at various point sizes and weights, shapes duplicated and reflected over one another, a sprinkling of colored forms that float to the surface of the roiling sea of black and white. “The whole show is a bit like music,” he said, gesturing to the works around him. “There is a rhythm. It flows.”

The same could be said of Riedel’s oeuvre, which doesn’t skip among discrete projects as much as evolve according to an Information Age-twist on recapitulation theory. One set of works frequently serves as a kind of starting point or raw material for the next one, and remains within it — excerpted, indexed, and adapted to thrive in a new context or format. This approach can be traced to his student days, when he first seized on restaging and reproduction as strategies for sidestepping the burdens of authorship. “When you’re doing artwork, people immediately start saying it’s good or bad,” he explained. “To get rid of this pressure, I started duplicating things or repeating things… this kind of indifferent expression, so you’re free, not really responsible for the work, and you’re on the same side as the critic, somehow standing on the outside looking at the work.”

From restaging cultural events like concerts, exhibitions by other artists, films, and club nights at his own experimental space in Frankfurt, Riedel came to reproducing his own work with the help of InDesign, Final Cut, and PowerPoint. Those tools enable reproduction without degradation, even when deployed naively, as Riedel does. The “Poster Paintings” began with Riedel copying and pasting into InDesign the raw code of webpages about him and his work (“everything that brings my work into the communication process”), and so formatting elements and everything else in the html field came along for the ride from text to image.

“I have my system, and then there are always new influences coming in from outside into the system,” he said, frowning at the term. “‛System’ sounds so complicated. What I mean with a system is that there is a process. My systems are simple, based on very naïve ideas: creating forms, turning things upside down, rotating.”

Viewers of this exhibition that can distance themselves from their own desktops, where PowerPoint has entirely different functional connotations, will delight in Riedel’s use of the program as “a way to translate things that comes automatically,” a means of reducing an infinity of possibilities into a user-friendly menu that can simultaneously represent all of his work and push it forward by creating a new, mutated strain that carries on select traits of previous generations. “I think I’m working on a Gesamtkunstwerk, with one line that carries through from the beginning to now, and I think that’s continuing,” he said. “At the end, I’m telling one big story.”

Michael Riedel was born in 1972 and currently lives and works in Frankfurt, where he received a Meisterschüler degree at the Städelschule in 2000. The same year, he launched the experimental artist space Oskar-von-Miller Strasse 16 in Frankfurt, where he restaged cultural events held at other locations throughout the city. In 2004, communal dinners were introduced at the venue, which, following a temporary relocation to Berlin, now exists in its third iteration at a new address in Frankfurt. The communal dinners continue under the name Freitagsküche.

Over the past decade, Riedel has shown in both solo and group exhibitions at prominent venues throughout the United States and Europe. In 2012, his work was the subject of a major survey, Kunste zur Text, at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. Other recent solo exhibitions include the Kunstverein Hamburg (2010); Städel Museum, Frankfurt (2009); and the Kunstraum Innsbruck, Austria (2007). He has participated in a number of international group exhibitions including the Sprengel Museum Hannover (2012); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2011); Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAM), Turin (2010); Tate Modern, London (2009); Kunsthalle Bern (2008 and 2006); Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art, France (2007); Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2005); and the Secession, Vienna (2003).

David Zwirner GalleryMichael RiedelmusicPowerpointWoog Riots

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