In Still Life Landscape at Baer Ridgway, the artist team of Castaneda/Reiman works with two overlapping strategies: the appropriation and transformation of the customary depiction of terrain, and the invention of new landscapes by purely formal means. They apply these methods to the well-worn convention of the painted vista in search of the core or essence of landscape. The result is a large group of works that read like a series of forensic reconstructions, wherein the artists propose a number of intriguing hypotheses about what it means to select, isolate, and depict the natural environment.
The first piece in the show, a medium-sized inkjet print hung on the wall, gives a clue to the premise of the exhibition. Still Life Landscape Document portrays a group of seven paintings leaning against a wall. No matter the original position of each canvas, all are oriented portrait-wise, counter to the traditional horizontal format of the landscape. Since a portrait is a study of character, the viewer understands immediately that the focus of this exhibition is to inspect or interrogate the archetypal form of landscape painting.
Two other works in the front room put forth different propositions. The first is Landscape with Mantle (Collage), a wall-dominating composition constructed from a large print, a found wooden mantle, and paint. The central part of the piece is a pigment print of digitally-collaged sections, appropriated from painted landscapes. Horizontal stripes of paint pick up tones from the print and evoke Martha Stewart’s genteel-farmhouse palette. The grandiosity of the work’s scale evokes the majesty of wild spaces, but as a whole the composition undercuts the fierce nature of open space by putting the print above the mantle—the well-behaved and traditional site for a painting. Further, the muted tones of the paint stripes fence the print in and reinforce the convention of bringing depictions of nature’s expansive greatness into the contained and controlled space of the home. In this work the tension between wild and domesticated resolves in favor of an airless interiority.
Across the room is Landscape with Mantle (Still Life), an installation of elements such as a gem-like angled sculpture set on a clear pedestal, a bronze block, and raw wood. The corner walls and partial sections of the leaning planks are carefully painted in varying beiges. Here the landscape is evocative rather than literal. Mysterious and cool instead of commonplace or readily accessible, it is an urbanite’s proposal for a landscape, formal and abstracted. Like the other works in the room, it is devoid of all real wildness. In this, Castaneda/Reiman draws attention to the paradox of the traditional landscape artist: to celebrate and glorify nature in the customary rectangular canvas is also to restrict and sterilize.
Not all the compositions in the show are so visually distanced from their original subject. Downstairs, the walls are hung with inkjet prints that each inspect a particular facet of the typical landscape. Composite Landscape (Water) presents collaged views of water, and Composite Landscape (Horizon) shows the horizon lines from various paintings. Each print is a collection of collaged rectangles taken from painted canvases, a digital trompe l’oeil in which the texture of the original is still alluringly visible. These prints lead the viewer along the walls to the final piece in the show, Still Life Landscape (Sculpture), an installation that takes up almost the entire width of the room. Printed to look like raw construction, a false wall manifests cuts and visible screw heads. Eight landscapes sit on clear, one-inch slabs and appear to lean loosely against each other and the wall in various orientations (right side up, sideways, upside down), but the proximal viewer can see that they are actually a linked construction, with one canvas notched to hold the next like statements in an argument. Here the artists have faked a sense of the undone and the temporary, again enacting the division between raw wilderness and well-crafted refinement. The resulting vacillation between poles asks the viewer to reflect on the contradiction inherent to representational landscapes: the enclosure and domestication of unfettered nature.
Art can renew and enliven a conventionalized practice by investigating the very properties that define its essence. In Still Life Landscape, Castaneda/Reiman have done just that; their explorations invigorate the landscape form by making it simultaneously recognizable and alien. The show takes the commonplace painted vista apart and puts it back together again in many thought-provoking ways.