painting: Untitled (ICU)

"New York artist Robert Reitzfeld has a devoted cult following, but his paintings are not nearly as well known as they ought to be....The paintings show a witty merger of Pop art idioms and post-painterly abstraction, like a mutant blend of John Wesley, Michael Bevilacqua and Gerhard Richter. In each of the exuberant compositions, Reitzfeld offers a unique balance of formalist elements and absurdist drama."

from David Ebony's Top Ten @ Artnet

Robert Reitzfeld

by Andrew McDonnell

Robert Reitzfeld brings a first genuine maturity to pop art. For him it is simple: so easy, that it takes real imagination to do it. He takes pop art, which is obvious, blatant, and mere travesty, and makes it mysterious, allusive, ironic—subtle. In a word, he abstracts it. We have had Abstract Expressionism. Now Reitzfeld shows how we can really use Abstract Pop, too.


Pop art is allegedly satiric, but typically pop merely copies the trite pictures it is supposed to lampoon. Instead of skewering banality, pop solemnizes it. Pop makes the inane pompous, the stupid sacred. This maroons it at a low level of invention and retarded potential. Reitzfeld patents the better blast-off. He starts with the familiar visual devices of graphic design, advertising, and comics. But he does not mirthlessly repeat them. Instead he defamiliarizes them. He rescues them from their customary commonplace context. He commands them as the instruments of creative, never repetitive, compositions. These do not parrot the imagery out of cartoons, packages, or ads. They allude to them. Reitzfeld does not hustle some mimeo of hokum stuck on modern art like gum. He devises really new and improved, and spryly original, congeries out of the explosions, blasts, and stunts of trapping and register that surround and shrinkwrap us, yet haunt and impel him.


In his inventive, individualist response to this bonus heritage, Reitzfeld makes the elements of pop art not risible icons, but viable stereotypes: not crude dead formats, rigidly and piously reiterated, but handy devices. They are constituents in a lively immediate imagery that hits us as familiar and accessible, but which recedes from our comfortable understanding and cozy grasp once we purchase its mystery. The articulate timbre of tired pop is cut loose from vivid tedium: snipped, hotwired, revved past any comfort zone where safe meanings snooze. Reitzfeld hijacks the hackneyed conventions of pop. He scores a personal and unconventional realm of apparition, contrived with the craftsman’s expert touch and practiced acumen, plus the authentic artist’s grasp on personality, and impulse, and wonder. Reitzfeld knows all the tricks, and he transcends the trickery; he uses all the building blocks and rules of thumb, to nab elliptic, evocative, and exciting surprise. He takes a truly new, objective, and secular view of sacrosanct pop, to storyboard a modern art where stale scripts yield to dexterity at magic, and bright spells surrender lurid to delight.


Text copyright © 2002 by Andrew McDonnell. Art copyright © 2002 by Robert Reitzfeld.

©2018 Robert Reitzfeld