STEVE REINKE at Birch Libralato (129 Tecumseth), to February 10. 416-365-3003. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In Steve Reinke's all american Soldiers, four large panels containing yearbook-sized photos of many of the American military dead from the Iraq War are arranged according to attractiveness.
Subjecting American war dead to a beauty pageant is the sort of risky act that's Reinke's specialty, as can be seen in a new show of drawing, installation and video entitled Hobbit Love Is The Greatest Love.
Every piece crackles with ambivalence and shock. Reinke enjoys enmeshing two apparently unrelated themes in the space of a single work. More often than not, previously unthinkable and uncomfortable connections turn up.
In Guernica, a found pornographic personal ad showing a man in a sailor's hat is affixed to a tiny replica of Picasso's mural, jewel-like and drizzled onto paper in green pigmented gel. It evokes the spectacle of atrocity and a commentary on art history, underscoring both with an anonymous and simmering eroticism.
Reinke places a Heideggerian maxim on a churchy felt banner. A strangely disheartening needlepoint kitten shares a yellow felt background with a paint-by-numbers bouquet of flowers. A storybook Jesus is overlaid with the ambiguous and ominous statement "No Means/All Ends."
Every social gesture here is double-edged, and interpretation becomes an unending business of dead ends and wrong turns. What's most frustrating and rewarding about Reinke's work is how it stubbornly resists straightforward readings.
It's fitting, then, that the only video in this show is of activist and social art theorist Joseph Beuys, visible only in silhouette, addressing his students about a prestigious award he was slated to receive.
"Can I refuse it?" he asks them right off the bat. "Perhaps it is better for me to refuse it. In accepting these gestures, there is always the danger of losing one's freedom."