Amy Reidel’s solo exhibition, Radar Home, 11.8.13, takes its name from the date her mother received a doctor’s call. A week later, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma—an incurable though treatable blood cancer. Though her mother has since recovered and is now cancer-free, this decisive moment in Reidel’s personal life unifies the wide-ranging works of painting, digital prints, video, sculpture, and installation on view at the Sheldon Art Galleries. Radar Home, 11.8.13 is poignant, but not depressing, as it evokes cautious optimism instead of despair. Reidel’s colorful palette and use of craft materials underscore the lighthearted humor in her work.
Several pieces are peppered along the hallway that runs from the entrance of the Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery within the Sheldon. Some are displayed independently, while others are clustered together. In Puking Roses (2016), fake roses are arranged in single file on a wall, vomiting tinsel that hangs like ringlets of green snot. Reidel’s grandmother is loosely painted on an irregularly shaped piece of canvas tacked to the wall in Pink Grandma and Kleenex Crown (2016). The subject’s hair is fluorescent pink and adorned with crumpled tissues and fake flowers. Two small assemblages, titled Tumors (2016), are beautiful conglomerations of handmade geodes, crystals, fake flowers, shredded snapshots, tinsel, and cut paintings. The works’ title and context shifts their beauty, and they become sinister knickknacks. One rests on a white shelf; the other hangs above like a Christmas ornament.
Halfway down the hallway, and to the right, a wide doorway opens to another part of the gallery, which is divided into three sections. Each one of these rooms has its own installation. In the center space, a large mandala of loose glitter and colored sand is composed with painstaking precision on a low, broad platform. The design of this work, Tumor Storm (2016), is roundish, asymmetrical, and organic—a composite of a colored MRI scan and weather radar. Multiple colors clash and complement each other as distinct shapes edge against one another.
There is tension between Reidel’s resplendent materials and foreboding subject matter. Her use of glitter in particular adds whimsy to the work, while providing a response to her mother’s illness. Anyone who has worked with glitter knows that it gets everywhere. It trails behind you and sticks on your person days after you’ve come into contact with it. In other words, glitter spreads like a disease, making it an appropriate—albeit humorous—medium for Reidel to work with. Like the sand mandalas made by Tibetan Buddhists, Tumor Storm is temporary, and the intricate installation will be swept away at the end of its showing—a somber reminder of life’s transience.
In the next room, a wig made of friendship bracelets and ribbons, Audrey Wig (2016), rests on a Styrofoam head covered with sequins and two blue, fake flower eyes. Reidel’s friends made the bracelets at her request, and the artist added burgundy ribbons to raise awareness of multiple myeloma. Fabricating a wig from these, Reidel honors those undergoing cancer treatments and their resulting hair loss. Nearby, an abstract painting, View From a Room (2016), hangs behind navy-blue velour curtains. Multiple layers obfuscate any discernible image, although horizontal stripes of golden, stenciled spray paint suggest blinds.
In the darkened back corner of the last gallery, a compilation of home videos from the early ’90s is projected on a wall. Footage of family gatherings is layered and paired with a solo piano arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” performed by Steve Valli specifically for the video. Personal recordings are interspersed—Reidel’s grandmother breathing with an oxygen mask during her last hours and her family’s conversation and laughter at the meal after she passed, among others. Beneath these is the methodical “beep…beep…beep…” of a heart monitor—another solemn reminder of mortality. The video evokes a sense of melancholy as Reidel shares fond memories of loved ones.
Radar Home, 11.8.13 is brave, and this bravery makes up for its formal disparities. Reidel’s works reflect the messy experience of a loved one fighting a terminal illness. She allows access to intimate, painful, and sometimes awkwardly personal moments that many would keep bottled up inside. Several works are gorgeous, some are a little grotesque, and the exhibition feels therapeutic—for Reidel, her family and friends, and for viewers. Some may appreciate the works’ beauty and humor elicited through colorful and dazzling craft materials that are both lush and tacky. Others might be moved by its sincerity and heartfelt content. For Reidel, Radar Home, 11.8.13 seems to be about overcoming obstacles and accepting those that cannot be overcome—remaining productive, creative, and positive during moments of emotional distress.
Amy Reidel: Radar Home, 11.8.13 will be on view at the Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis through January 14, 2017.