True Grit: Michaela Eichwald at Reena Spaulings

Michaela Eichwald, Pofalla, (willst Du mir jetzt komplett den Garaus machen?) 2010.

It’s not that Michaela Eichwald doesn’t give a crap about her paintings; she just beats the shit out of them. It’s part of a lengthy weathering process that imbues them with the perfect balance of attraction and repulsion.  Before they get to the gallery, they’ve been stepped on, left out in the rain, randomly stained, and often chemically altered. Eichwald decimates boring oil painting clichés (think “fat over lean”) by glopping oil, acrylic and varnish seemingly at random. Yet, despite their abject quality, her work feels uniquely intimate. She stakes a claim somewhere between the automated work of, say, Wade Guyton and the ubiquitous “special moments” abstraction crowd that seems destined to follow the Nozkowski/Tuttle/De Keyser rules in perpetuity.

Thankfully, there’s more than enough personality on view here to keep Eichwald away from the ugly-on-purpose thing. Pofalla, (willst Du mir jetzt komplett den Garaus machen?) is downright epic.  Spanning the entire length of the gallery, it includes photos, posters, packaging, tribal imagery, personal notes, geometric forms, splats of paint and tons of lacquer. The overall effect is like a Rauchenbergian run-on sentence—Eichwald seems to be spilling and organizing her guts right on the paper. And like Rauschenberg, she understands when to let the material do the talking. The yellowed lacquer also performs a rather tawdry version of Sigmar Polke’s experiments with alchemy.

Michaela Eichwald, Auer Dult, leidinde Mangel, 2010.

Unlocking and then encasing both personal and universal mysteries, Eichwald’s work has an authenticity that feels organically unforced.  She combines cave painting motifs with silhouettes in Auer Dult, leidende Mangel, referring to the centuries-old market and folk festival in Munich. Installed behind a pipe in the well-worn “bar” area of the gallery, the unstretched painting has both a nomadic and site-specific feel. The Three Cravings, the most straight ahead painting in the show, could almost pass for a roughed-up riff on U.S. abstraction, like an Amy Sillman painting stripped down to its essence.

Michaela Eichwald, The Three Cravings, 2010.

Eichwald’s powers seem extra concentrated in Peinliche Verhörung mit Tortor (Hand), a horrifying cast resin sculpture of a hand resting on a small plunger. I’ve never been so drawn to something as utterly untouchable as this. The hand oozes and drips and tiny nails stick out of its mangled fingers. A spent gum packet is encased inside, and random bits of trash and dirt float about. Installed on a windowsill, this terrifying talisman becomes oddly beautiful as the sooty light from the Lower East Side shines through it.

Michaela Eichwald, Peinliche Verhörung mit Tortor (Hand), 2010.

Overall, there’s an almost teenage sense of vitality in Eichwald’s work, a tendency that is unfortunately forced out of artists while they are in grad school. Because of this, the show might not live up to the bullshit standards of a typical Chelsea affair (after a while you start to pick apart her repetitive palette, and the dependence on lacquer can be a bit much), but I like to see an artist who believes so strongly in the power of physical presence. As grimy as her work might look, Eichwald seems to be coming from a place that is surprisingly pure.