Mark Rappolt writes about Tal R’s Sexshops paintings and interviews the artist in the October issue of ArtReview
It’s not often that you hear ‘pleasure’ mentioned in the context of contemporary art these days. Somehow, in these times of refugee crises, the rise of various forms of radical nationalism, the discourse of politics degenerating into an exchange of insults, the natural environment becoming less and less natural, if not gradually destroyed, and the gulf between rich and poor ever increasing, the notion of contemporary art being a source of pleasure (rather than critique or reflection) seems unfashionable, untopical and, well, generally unrealistic in terms of the world we actually inhabit. And these days we want art to speak to that world. Listen to so-called learned sense about art today and you’ll find yourself pounded by the distinct opinion that finding pleasure in art is old-fashioned, even immoral. Anyone who visited this year’s Documenta learned that. And, to an extent, it’s probably the impression that you’re left with after reading magazines like this one too.
So it’s as much disconcerting as it is refreshing to witness ideas of pleasure playing a central role in Israel-born, Copenhagen-based painter Tal R’s ongoing Sexshoppaintings. And what exactly is his idea of pleasure? A closed door. At least that’s the message you get when you stand in front of The pleasure (2017), which offers the viewer the aforementioned (firmly closed) double door – its four glowing, triangular hinges looking like a set of cartoon animal teeth – parked in the middle of a yellow wall.
That’s pretty much it for this vision of gratification. A line of fleshy pink rectangles below the wall, followed by green, blue and red stripes, might indicate the beginnings of a carpet or a garishly coloured pavement and street – at least they generally seem to suggest the intersection of one plane and another. Then there’s a stripe of green above the wall. It might indicate a roof on top of it or a garden behind: it’s impossible to divine which. And there’s a stripe of blue above the green. Sky. Perhaps. For as much as the painting as a whole invites you to extend its presence into a more plastic realm, every time you attempt to reconstruct it as a representation of an ‘actual’ space – to locate yourself in relation to it – that whole seems to resist, insisting instead that it is what it is: a series of flat planes of colour divided, occasionally, by vertical lines. As it settles back down, you realise that here is no ‘in front’, no ‘behind’, no ‘roof ’ and no ‘floor’, merely pigment attached to canvas in a way that describes a series of geometric forms. Anything else is not so much on the canvas as in your head.