When Magali Reus came to the Nasher Sculpture Center for a site visit in 2017, the Dutch artist first noticed the exit signs. Designed specifically for the Renzo Piano building in the characteristic Nasher green, she was struck by the color, but also by the way in which language and design can work in tandem. As part of her exhibit, “A Sentence in Soil,” on display until 9/11, she riffs on those marks, abstracting them beyond the point of recognition.
“I’m interested in the logic of objects,” says Reus. “And I’m thinking about architecture and how doors and buildings are interested in directing people and bodies in or throwing them out.”
Much of the 41-year-old artist’s work explores this tension between an object’s intended purpose and how it can work with, or against, the context in which it is placed. What is the use of a weather vane when placed on top of an umbrella stand? What if that umbrella stand also acts as a fruit bowl? Will a viewer also recognize the individual purposes of those objects? Do they become something completely new? In this exhibition, she is particularly interested in the ways in which human beings can, and do, intervene with the natural world.
“I’m interested in the idea that our relationship with nature has to be filtered,” says Reus. “How we build walls and then install windows to let in what we call ‘natural light’. There are these strange contradictions that exist in our environments ”.
Reus explores these contradictions in his work by creating sculptures which he describes as “unreal things”. This exhibition contains several complementary works. Exit Signs inspired his “Beetles” series, in which he creates a visual puzzle that invites viewers to stand still and unravel it, instead of directing them out of the room. He has created steel contraptions in the specific shade of green and in each iteration creates a handwriting from the electric wire to deconstruct the four letters EXIT.
The “Clays” are the most important in his exhibition, a series of panels fixed to the wall in the shape of a door that have been sized to the height of a body. They have been painted to resemble sacks of soil and soil additives, such as chicken manure. In this way, it creates a discrepancy between earth-bound language and industrial materials, such as steel, iron and aluminum. Much of his work is oblique, allowing each person who interacts with it to draw different conclusions. Perhaps he is turning our attention to the problems of intensive farming. Maybe he just did something really interesting.
Its “Bonelight” series suggests picnic tables but lacks functionality. The rounded edges and curled metal legs have an eerie quality. Each board has small paintings of a different fruit and a wooden sculpture containing the names of the varieties of that fruit. On the table with an apple painting, the carving reads “Braeburn, Autumn Glory, Jonagold, Enterprise, Golden Russet”. Reus, in his own way, is pointing to the need for human beings to classify aspects of nature.
“My work is in many ways about our relationship with nature, which I think for many of us became more explicit during the pandemic,” says Reus.
This exhibit was originally scheduled for April 2020. The expedition was just a few days away when museums around the world closed. That delay gave Reus time to create a new body of work, “Knaves”, a selection of which is on display at the Nasher. Like many people, Reus remained with his family during the early days of the pandemic. While walking in the woods near The Hague in the Netherlands, he discovered a collection of colorful mushrooms and started photographing them.
“I spent more time in nature because I was locked up in this home environment,” says Reus. “I’ve played around with photography a lot, but I’ve never felt brave enough to show one. I think it has found its natural place in my work ”.
He mounted the photos of the mushrooms on powder coated steel frames reminiscent of the larger “Clays” series. These works somehow complete the life cycle exhibited in the exhibition: compost, earth, fruit, consumption, digestion, decomposition, which in turn become earth and compost.
“There is a strange circulatory experience in the way we consume,” Reus says, “the way we grow our food, consume food and digest food is all connected.”