Lili Reynaud-Dewar presents a group of works that originally functioned as public art billboards in Bregenz, Austria. In their current form the large vinyl images have been stretched and re-displayed in parallel sequence to their initial form on the Bregenzer Seestraße, the city’s busiest street.
Commissioned by the Kunsthaus Bregenz for their KUB Billboard program, and presented in October 2018, Reynaud-Dewar’s response took the form of six nude self-portraits, each paired with a segment from a come-hither phrase: Oops, I think I may have lost my lighter somewhere on the ground... Could someone please be so kind to come here and help me find it? Color photographs of the artist appearing bored, lonely, or confused were enlarged to monumental scale, gathering a sweep of listless poses and dancer-like positions.
Reynaud-Dewar’s work in performance, video and sculpture often incorporates the body as subject and instrument. Much of Reynaud-Dewar’s work, especially the artist’s performance pieces set in galleries and museums, confront the unspoken power dynamics of institutional spaces. With the KUB Billboards, Reynaud-Dewar counteracts the political imperatives of so much public art by playfully bringing, in the artist’s words, the “anecdotal and intimate” into public space.
For this exhibition, titled after the suite of works on view, Reynaud-Dewar decided to break another rule of public art by bringing the work back indoors, so to speak, into a commercial / private context. The gesture poses the question: Does this strip the work of its necessity, its ethics? The flirtatious images, with their coquettish message, are contrasted by the scale and style of their design. Using the same font as the familiar “Smoking Kills” labels on cigarette packaging, and with the artist’s body painted in metallic silver, Reynaud-Dewar’s billboards express an ambivalence about public art and its supposed beneficial purposes.
Historically, the works call to mind the mundane billboard experiments of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel but they also raise contemporary questions about the role of women’s bodies in art, advertising and social media, where in women’s image is contradictorily censored or exploited, depending on the context. In this iteration, Reynaud-Dewar’s billboards are both preserved and, perversely, compromised. One canvas in particular serves as a kind of commemorative caption for the Bregenz project; this transposed billboard includes the artwork title, exhibition dates, venue and project name, and, finally, the museum’s funding partners. Public space, the show suggests, is never the domain of the individual, let alone the public.
Courtesy of the artist and CLEARING New York, Brussels
Photos by Stan Narten