Dave Hickey is right: beauty counts. No matter how important a statement art makes, first and foremost, it has to be visually compelling. Only then do you need to decide what, if anything, it means.
So I guess there are a couple of reasons I’m not crazy about Dario Robleto‘s work: first, I’m not into art that comes pre-packaged with dense, watertight meaning. Robleto’s pieces are most always accompanied by meticulous notes and/or wall text. This tells you a lot about where Robleto is coming from, which, as it happens, is an interesting place. But even if it enriches your understanding (as it often does), the artist’s interpretation is secondary to your own. You don’t need to know why or how Cy Twombly assembled his sculptures in order to appreciate them. they’re cool even without the background story.
Which leads me to the second, more fundamental reason I’m not a Robleto fan: a lot of his work just doesn’t look good. Cut away all the meaning and there’s not much left over to catch my eye. Or, as David Fahl put it in a review of Robleto: “Why doesn’t the artist just publish the labels in a booklet? … Why not show paintings or sculpture that really need to be seen to do their job?”
As a child, Dario Robleto fantasized about being in a rock band, and he incorporates pop music into almost all his work. He draws especially from DJ culture, “sampling” different materials and ideas in a single piece. His most common technique has been to melt down record albums and reshape them into everyday objects. Thus a lipstick holder made from melted glam rock albums is both literally and figuratively about dressing up with lots of makeup.
Robleto deserves real praise for his creative, thoughtful exploration of a wealth of issues, from science to pop culture to the technology of war, death and disco. He’s clearly very sharp, and has really thought this stuff through. The problem is, he doesn’t leave room for anyone else to think.
His current show, on view at Inman Gallery through May 26, continues his practice of presenting two exhibitions as an “album,” with A-side (Requiem Writer) and B-side (My Magnetic Flaw) in two different rooms of the gallery. In his “liner notes,” Robleto refers to the works in the show as “tracks.”
The two best tracks are Requiem Writer (World War Odes) and Your Moonlight Is In Danger Of Shining For No One. Not only are they both good-looking pieces, they also have the least amount of explanatory text. (Both had already sold at the opening). Requiem Writer is a grid of 16 drawings based on record designs from Robleto’s grandmother’s music collection. The old-fashioned album designs, copied in an appealingly amateurish style (like that of a 6th grader obsessed with rock stardom), feature amusing, macabre made-up song titles like “The Abstractness Of A Blown Off Limb” and ‘scientist in the Belly of a Whale: Bobby Oppenheimer and the Turkish Cosmonauts.” The drawings are nostalgic, funny and grim and they look great.
Your Moonlight Is In Danger Of Shining For No One comes from Side B of the exhibition, in which three sculptures made from very rare types of glass each commemorate a death. Your Moonlight is a wooden presentation box opened to display a glass drumstick made from trinitite, which, the notes explain, is “glass produced during the first nuclear test explosion (July 16, 1945) when heat from blast melts surrounding sand near impact site.” A brass label is engraved with the title and “Keith Moon: 1947-1978.” It’s a fabulous looking object, and the idea of a drumstick made from nuclear glass in honor of the hard-living ex-drummer of The Who is by far the best in the show.
The other works at Inman Gallery continue Robleto’s favorite themes of nostalgia, mourning and loss: he mourns the lack of soul in today’s pop music in Sometimes The Top 40 Makes Me Feel Like An Empty, Maine Coastal Cottage In The Dead Of Winter, and he recreates his mother’s adolescent bedroom from the 1960’s in miniature, in a piece called Some Memories Are So Vivid I’m Suspicious Of Them. The weakest work in the show is We”ll Dance Ourselves Out Of The Tomb, in which a disco ball made from “hand ground glass formed when meteorite strikes earth,” rotates above a “pool” and a piece of jewelry made of (amongst other things) a “melted vinyl record of T.Rex‘s “Cosmic Dancer,” and a 50,000 year old meteorite fragment. This time even the liner notes didn’t help me; it took Robleto himself explaining that this was, in essence, a meteorite crashing down to Earth for my lightbulb even to flicker.
Other artists use precious, hard-to-collect materials (Wolfgang Laib), assign intricate meaning to their work (Mel Chin), use obsessive techniques (Tom Friedman), or make conceptual art based on pop music (Dutch artist Erik Hansen). Robleto combines these tactics to create art that sometimes appeals, but more often than not fails to (in his words) “turn shit into gold.” If it really were gold, we wouldn’t need all the explanation.
All images appear courtesy the artist and Inman Gallery.
Rainey Knudson is the founder of Glasstire.