Taken from the catalogue of the
Baxter Art Gallery
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena 1980)

Michael H. Smith:


James Reineking

Physical Lines of Thought


There is no page one for a painting or sculpture. Unlike literature, music, dance, and film, there is no obvious beginning and ending. What the viewer confronts, in most instances, is an apparent totality that somehow has to be broken apart in the mind and then reassembled in some meaningful fashion. The artist does not guide the viewer note by note to a conclusion about the whole. Rather, the whole seems to have been given, and one is asked to determine how he got there for himself.

In the 1960s and through the 1970s, visual artists have approached this problem in various ways. Video and Performance Art are perhaps the two most obvious in that they utilize media apart from painting and sculpture. But, within the loosened definition of painting and sculpture, the era brought forth Conceptual, Process, and Systemic Art in addition to a renewed interest in installations and environmental projects. In each of these activities, the artist is attempting to create a rational context for the given object, thus enabling the viewer to "read" the artwork. The problem remains: where to begin? But, if we think of an artwork as an equation, a2 + b =c2, we can see that it makes little difference where one starts. Balance and unity have been established with symbols positioned to direct the viewer towards an understanding. As in literature, music, dance, and film, it is up to the viewer to interpret these relationships in a linear fashion.

In the art of James Reineking this linearity takes dynamic form in hot rolled steel sculpture. Though the sculptures are static, the mind of the viewer charges along vectorial paths to search out associations, depicted and implied. Like the equation there is unity, balance, and a captivating logic that holds the viewer on a course of discovery.

Included in the exhibition at the Baxter Art Gallery are twelve new drawings from 1979-80 and five sculptural constructions, dating from 1973. Two are wall pieces composed of thin, hot rolled steel, while the three floor pieces are hot rolled plate, in one case, one inch thick. All of the works were fabricated by being cut from a sheet of steel and then repositioned with all but one bent or folded. The directions are simple, clear, open; but thought of and realized in the context of steel, the works take on added complexities in concert with the process.

Of the three major floor pieces installed in the gallery the earliest is a magical puzzle, Circular Rune, 1974 (catalog #1). The circumference of a circle is indicated by three 6' sheets of steel, folded lengthwise. Each piece is a different configuration. One sheet has a convex arc and a concave arc that make up the long sides. The other two each have a long straight edge with a convex side opposite for one and a concave side opposite for the other. The circle is readily perceived, though two pieces are positioned inside the circle and the remaining piece, outside the circle. What is perhaps more allusive is the relationship of the three pieces to each other. When the sculpture was being transported into the gallery, because of the weight of the steel, there was some discussion about how it should be moved. One helper suggested we move the heaviest piece first, alone, and then stack the remaining two on the dolly. The artist was quick to point out that all three pieces of steel weigh exactly the same. They do because they are three equal volumes that fit together, when unfolded, into a square sheet of steel (6' on a side). The circle they describe, when the sculpture is installed, circumscribes that square.

The positioning of the components of Circular Rune is an expansion of the square from which they were cut. In Over/Under II, 1979-80 (catalog # 2) the resulting configuration is compressed from an original trisection of a circular sheet. The compression reflects the extreme force needed to bend and manipulate the steel; yet, as with all of Reineking's works the unbending and repositioning is a compelling and conceivable feat for the muscles of the viewer's mind.

Quadrant/Encircled (Two Equal Masses), 1980 (catalog #3) is Reineking's most recent sculpture and serves as an excellent example of the linear forces, literal and implied, inherent in the artist's work. The sculpture is constructed of a steel quadrant W thick and 6" wide. The arc, 169W long, delineates the remaining circumference of the 6' diameter circle. The two elements complement each other in unifying the concept of a complete circle. That they are equal partners may not be easily perceived, but in fact they are of equal mass, equal weight. The irony is that with equal volumes, they combine to create the image of a circle - a concept that has no volume. In this situation, a line has been drawn between the three-dimensional physical properties of steel sculpture and the two- dimensional notion of a circle. And, if we may extend the line, we perceive the point at the center of the circle which was determined by the artist. It is essential to remember that it is the artist who is ultimately the beginning; and, perhaps in the opposite direction, it is the viewer who is the end.

The wall pieces continue the "push/pull" between two-dimensional problems and three-dimensional presence. As much as the viewer wants to read the wall as ground and incorporate it as substance into pieces such as Quadrant with 90 Mass Displacement I, 1975 (catalog #5), the metallic surface asserts itself to confound that notion. From a quadrant with a base of 60", the artist cut an equilateral triangle with a base of 54" 90% of the quadrant base). He then "displaced" the triangle, rotating it 90 clockwise so that the bases rest on the same line. The precariously balanced image is now larger and the wall appears to rush in to fill the space vacated by the triangle. But this is not a hard-edge painting. There is no illusion. What is there is there. The animation is derived from the material and the process.

The same is true of the other wall piece in the exhibition, Square to Rectangle, 1973 (catalog #4), which, like the floor piece Over/Under II, represents a compressed image from the original square. To "restore" the piece the viewer must visually unfold the corner sections and slide the halves along the diagonal. But as this is being done, the viewer cannot forget that this is steel.

Steel might seem an unnatural link between human beings; however, if one involves the artist and the viewer in a consideration of the artwork, the connection becomes tenable. These steel sculptures represent an element of paradox which can be used to measure human capabilities. Wasn't it the artist who selected the material and had it cut, bent, and folded according to his plans? The steel, strong and durable as it is, exists here in this form only because the artist wanted it that way. Doesn't this say something about the "strength" of the artist? And what about the "strength" of the viewer? Remember how easily the viewer unfolds and repositions the hot rolled steel plates. Using the keys presented by the artist, the viewer enters into a relationship with the artist, not constrained by steel but perhaps secured. The physicality of the steel is tempered for hardness or dematerialized depending on the posture of the artist and the viewer. As such, the steel floor pieces and wall pieces of James Reineking are indeed an appropriate link