Ted Riederer's The Resurrectionists
Five Instruments in Five Acts

By Colby Chamberlain


I. Do It Again

Start here—In 1953 Robert Rauschenberg knocks on the door of Willem de Kooning with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a favor to ask: Could he erase one of de Kooning’s drawings? They sit down and open the bottle, and nervously Rauschenberg explains his current body of work, a series of white paintings wholly lacking in gesture and image. He would like to involve drawing as well, with the only method available, erasure. Would de Kooning, among the most recognized of living U.S. artists, agree to the destruction of one piece for the creation of another?

De Kooning is no dummy, and he understands the ballsy nature of Rauschenberg’s request. It is an act of insouciance, of slaying the father with eraser-heads. Take away de Kooning’s mark and it’s tantamount to castration. Nevertheless, de Kooning plays along and begins looking through his portfolios. At first he reaches for a light sketch but thinks better of it. “It has to be something I’ll miss,” he tells Rauschenberg. He looks through the first portfolio, then a second, a finally in the third finds the perfect piece, grinning deviously.

The drawing is two feet high and thick with graphite, crayon, and charcoal. It takes a Rauschenberg a solid month and countless erasers to remove it all. His friend Jasper Johns decides on the precise wording of the title, which is later embedded into the frame: Erased de Kooning Drawing.

Now, with chords—In Spring 2006, Ted Riederer approaches Max Huber, formerly of the punk revival band Swingin’ Utters, with a favor to ask: Could he smash one of Riederer’s guitars? On a street corner in the East Village, Riederer explains himself. Like Huber, he’s a refugee from punk—still has the oversized barn-red van that carried him and his band, Thumper, to gigs in church basements and bars. Nowadays he mostly considers himself a painter but still plays with a Boston-based band, appropriately called The New You. They specialize in self-acknowledged Sunday-morning music, all chiming guitars, careful percussion, and murmured vocals—which, as it turns out, is a hundred-times harder than any three-chord punk anthem.

As a painter, Riederer explains, he reveres craft, patience, and mastery—in short, a set of values that sometimes feels rather unfashionable in art these days. He studies the work of Delacroix and Goya, and sees himself as part of that tradition, even as he pokes fun of it by painting Caravaggio-inspired mosh-pits or water-colors that mimic concert flyers. Imagine his frustration, then, with insider-circuses like the current Whitney Biennial, where a dark glamour pervades and art critics thumb thesauruses in search of new synonyms for detritus: debris, trash, waste. For someone who has spent as long living in No Future as Riederer has, this doesn’t seem enough any more.

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