Tenuous Room: A Project by Magali Reus

with text by artist Magali Reus
and Nasher Curator Catherine Craft

In her second major US show, Dutch-born, London-based artist Magali Reus presents an installation that examines the relationships between people and objects through the distortion of common images. 

Reus reimagines commonly found objects such as “No Parking” signs or dehumidifiers to take on new lives. She describes this act of an object’s physical transformation as “destabilizing and emancipatory,” one that allows it to perform a different function than the one people normally associate it with. These objects and their new functions reflect the disjointed character of contemporary life, where digital production and consumption make our interactions with objects a more isolated and alienated process. 

For the Nasher Sculpture Center’s series of smaller-scale exhibitions that highlight the work of emerging or established artists, Reus will create new sculptures that similarly turn common objects on their heads. One of these will distort the color and typography of the Nasher’s specially designed green “EXIT” signs, while another will bring together concepts around the fruit basket—an esteemed and commonly used still life object by painters—and market stands where fruits might be sold and displayed. 

Here, in a volley of poetic missives from Reus and Nasher Curator Catherine Craft, written just as the pandemic was locking everyone indoors in the spring of 2020, Reus’s work about quotidian objects takes on new meaning and weight. 

Magali Reus: A couple of weeks before my sculptures were destined to ship to Dallas for my exhibition at The Nasher Sculpture Center (the making of which had been absorbing most of my time and mind over the past 12 months), it became evident that due to escalating global crisis, this would no longer be happening on the initially planned date of April 15, 2020.

Catherine Craft: I went to New York on March 9. It was to be my last trip for curatorial work before returning to Dallas for the installation and opening of Magali Reus: A Sentence in Soil. When the Nasher closed to the public on March 13, 2020 due to the growing pandemic, at first we thought that perhaps we would be able to open the exhibition later, at the end of May. We quickly realized we were wrong. I delayed my return to Dallas. I am still in New York, where my partner’s houseplants press against every window, obscuring views of spring with their seasonless growth.

Ten days after Magali Reus’s exhibition was to have opened, and after repeated exchanges between us regarding practical matters of finance, storage, and scheduling, I discovered that even in these circumscribed times of lockdown, Magali’s creative life continues.

Reus: I am currently in Amsterdam, self-isolating in a small apartment. With the Rijksmuseum closed and only 2 minutes away, it sometimes feels as though the ghosts of the museum have drifted into my living space.

The domestic has become a new framework upon which my new routine hangs: work is imagined through virtual means, the fruit bowl a new appendage or extension of nature’s gracious bounty, the windows an interrogative portrait of people-at-home, my neighbors, who perform in pantomime the same mirrored gestures as myself. Early morning coffee is a triumph and time continues its mysterious progressions through light and dark.

Craft: When an artist makes new work, all the photographs in the world cannot make it less of a mystery; you only become truly acquainted when the art is before you. These last months, I heard stories of the sculptures taking shape in Magali’s studio, received photos of bits and pieces undergoing fabrication, examined digital renderings. There would be two series of work—no, four. My question, somewhat bewildered: “Are you still planning to do a fruit bowl [series of sculptures] to go with the awnings?” Her answer: These have now become part of the parasol bases! Of course they have.

There is delight there, in the unpredictable ways art upends us on its passage from idea to materiality. I imagine these works in Magali’s studio, sheltered in place. In my mind’s eye the studio is darkened, although I’ve only ever seen it in the brightness of illumined day. For me, the works are not yet fully real, still. I can almost sense them, but if I put out my hand, there’s nothing I can grasp.

Reus: […] I will share some of the works currently left behind in my London studio. Virtually re-imagined as simulacra versions of their real finished selves, these depictions are projected shells, pieces of proxy emotion and identity who take the roles of substance, weight, shadow, and color and perform them with new intent, with new desperation to convince that the world of touch is not erased, but simply paused until we can welcome it with greater responsibility. Our worlds are often held intact by the great electric grid of consumer product; here these worlds combine and move together, equal comic protagonists in a rearranging of personal matter.

Craft: After so much time at home, nothing looks the same. Resourcefulness moves in. In Magali's transfigured works, shown below, the parasol base becomes a stand to accommodate cleaning products and coveted rolls of toilet paper; add a shirt and you have a companion, its buffaloed gaze sweeping our admittedly constricted horizon [The Greenest Grass]. Likewise, the green sculptures are based on the Nasher’s exit signs, but there’s no exit in sight. Instead, their surplus power makes a connection to the appliances that keep us company – the bounteous fridge, the purring blender [Beetle (East)], the respiratory rhythms of vacuum and oscillating fan. Emptied echoes of the earth beneath our feet, rich and loamy, raised up as doors, become bulletin boards for old photos, younger versions of ourselves, mingled with others, touching without thinking twice [Clay (Mushrooms)].

The fourth group has no such repurposed life that I can make out, only the fruit that falls, or is thrown, or rains upon wall-mounted structures bracketed in upon themselves, enfolded in a mimicry of sleep and the slow time of dreams [Bonelight (Midsweet)]. The fruit keeps coming down. I’m still in New York, and there are fewer sirens now. Spring will likely be summer by the time I see Dallas again.

Magali Reus, The Greenest Grass, 2020

Magali Reus, Beetle (East), 2020

Magali Reus, Clay (Mushrooms), 2020

Magali Reus, Bonelight (Midsweet), 2020

Magali Reus originally created the videos, images, and text (in italics, above) presented here for Shorelines, a series of week-long online artist projects published by Ordet, an exhibition, research, and production platform based in Milan. 3D modelling was done by Joseph Hazelwood-Horner; 3D animation was done by Adam Sinclair. All works courtesy Magali Reus, represented by The Approach, London. Title from “The Good Morrow,” in Jack Underwood, Happiness (London, 2015).

Magali Reus: A Sentence in Soil is on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center from May 14 – September 11, 2022.


Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
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