For German artist Michael Riedel, who had a star turn at the Armory Show, everything he sees has art potential

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German artist Michael Riedel (Jason Schmidt. Courtesy David Zwirner)
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Armory Arts Week is over, but that could very well mean the beginning of something for German artist Michael Riedel, the sole artist presented at the David Zwirner booth at the Armory Show.

The 39-year-old Frankfurt-based artist is known for appropriating events, texts, images, and recordings of past events or exhibitions for use in his work; these practices, as well as  translations, repeated lists, and duplications are major themes in his work. It's a practice that works with what Riedel calls "postproduction."

“My work tries to make sense out of postproduction,” Riedel told me when I spoke with him at the show on Saturday. “Postproduction here is the action itself. All of my work is related to one idea. Each of my works draws on the notion of postproduction, but they do so through the use of different media.” 

Often, as in the Zwirner exhibit, the work takes the form of text and images taken from a variety of sources and composed into graphic, geometric images. 

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Riedel has created work from all manner of source materials, from museum and gallery exhibitions and publications to transcripts of conversations from his own life.

A collaborative project launched in Frankfurt in 2000 with fellow German artist Dennis Loesch, titled Oskar-von-Miller Strasse 16 and staged in an abandoned building at that address, effectively restaged a variety of cultural events—from entire local art exhibitions to imperfect copies of film screenings—that were occurring across the city at various locations, either simultaneously or with a time lag.

For his first solo exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery in New York in 2005, Riedel recreated a show of works by Leipzig artist Neo Rauch (also represented by Zwirner) titled Renegaten, which had been put on in the space earlier that year. But rather than a perfect copy, the effects of Riedel’s particular take yielded fragmented, imperfect reproductions at play with ideas of authenticity, memory, citation, and the slippery meaning of the act of reproduction.

In another ongoing project, Riedel creates fake Artforum magazines: The title is replaced by the name, in the same font and format, of the collector who commissions them, while inside is always the same content, his own catalogue raisonné. With each iteration, of course, the catalogue expands (and includes all the other faux-Artforums). Riedel signed purchased copies of these at the Zwirner booth on Saturday.    

The David Zwirner Gallery's decision to present work by just one artist this year reflects this year's Armory Show's billing as a carefully curated affair with a streamlined list of exhibitors and artworks.

Streamlined is also a good description of Riedel’s work on view. Three site-specific works, all of which sold out within the first half hour of the Armory Show’s VIP preview last Wednesday at $50,000 apiece, each to different collectors, engaged absences—both literal and conceptual. The large, silkscreened “poster paintings” consist of random excerpts from posters, interview transcripts, and press releases that accompanied previous shows of his work.

Viewed from a distance the panels present striking, abstract yet geometrically focused graphic compositions. Up close, it's apparent that the images are achieved by the repeated crowding of largely unintelligible data.

Riedel said that what is legible, or visible, in these pieces serves an almost exclusively aesthetic function where text and image assume the same meaning  

“The text is not for reading actually; the text serves as an image. Searching for meaning in these texts is a natural inclination, but it’s an impulse that is ultimately useless.”  

Yet Riedel’s works are in fact saturated with specific references and latent meanings, as he later conceded.

“My material is information, but it is not readable, yet at the same time my work is highly self-referential. It’s not in any way blind text like lorem ipsum [dummy text used to test text appearance by designers] or anything.”

The text included in these pieces is at once blueprint and ruin; it actually does have a backstory, even if it has abandoned whatever prior meaning it had in its current context.  

“So, in spite of the illegible nature of the text reproduced here we could also actually talk about the actions represented in the pieces," he said. "In effect, I am the system; I present myself here as information.” 

Riedel’s work calls to mind Walter Benjamin’s contention that “the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition; by making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.”

Riedel, however, uses reproduction for purely generative purposes. A fourth work in the Zwirner booth, which was not for sale, duplicated the booth’s space in full-scale photographic form, as "wallpaper" of the works on sale (pictured above).

"A lot of people miss the fact that the image I have presented in the wallpaper here … is actually something that indicates an absence," Riedel said.

The wallpaper image equally draws on the theme of postproduction, having been created and installed after the initial works were already in the booth for the fair.

“There’s always a kind of loss or emptiness in postproduction,” he said. “Documentation always has something empty about it. Certain things are lost in the process of reproduction and framing, while others are recovered or revealed incidentally.”

Riedel's first major retrospective will open this June at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, but apart from that he said he was most excited for the chance to once again focus on his favorite pet project, Freitagskueche, the restaurant and cultural space (his studio is on top of it) he runs in Frankfurt that is only open on Fridays.

Asked if the material from the Armory Show would become source material for future projects, Riedel said it almost certainly would.

"Every piece of ephemera can become an artifact in postproduction," he said. "It's an ongoing communication between me as the system and the art world as the system."