From a single pew, viewers absorb Mathias Poledna’s new, luscious projected 35mm film “Substance,” 6:40 minutes looped: abstract washes of gold, close-up shots of three rotating hands, a shiny, beveled dial, and the signature crown revealing the identity of a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. Finally shown in full, the desired timepiece floats away into a black void, with no semblance of place to distract from adoration. An enveloping percussive soundtrack heightens the film’s seduction. The familiar yet hard-to-place music recalls an intense action movie sequence or urban nightclub, its heavy beat lending a dogmatic tempo.
The Austrian-born Poledna lives in Los Angeles. His nine short, moving-image works produced since 2000 employ Hollywood allure, from 1930s black-and-white musicals in “A Village by the Sea,” 2011, to Golden-era Disney illustration in “Imitation of Life,” 2013. “Substance” functions within the schema of classical advertising by elevating a single commercial luxury good but the film’s artistic presentation and pulsating soundtrack prohibits easy consumption.
The magnetism and fine-art status of Poledna’s short films is interlinked with a grand, isolated viewing experience created by the artist through precise, calculated control of his environment. At the Ren, the religious presentation is heightened by the gallery’s Gothic vaulted ceilings, in which knowledgeable visitors will recognize Poledna’s second piece—an iconoclastic permanent removal of the Renaissance Society’s signature ceiling grid. During the modernist 1970s, architects truncated Cobb Hall’s neo-gothic interior to create a contemporary white box, and the non-structural lattice has dictated exhibition possibilities for more than forty years. Solveig Øvstebø, the Ren’s relatively new director, worked with Mathias Poledna to remove the architectural element and expose the institution’s bones on the cusp of its Centennial year.
As artist and architect, Poledna creates a theatrical, religious experience that visually engrosses his viewers, leaving an endless array of meaning or metaphor to be mined from his meditation on the gold status-symbol which replaces Giotto’s Virgin Mary as the subject of this artist commission. (Anastasia Karpova Tinari)
Through February 8 at the Renaissance Society, 5811 South Ellis.