Obfuscation Begins at HomeOctober 20th, 2011
Triscuit Obfuscation is Robert Melee’s sixth solo show at Andrew Kreps Gallery, following a streak of group show cameos uptown and downtown.
It’s a fabulous spectacle, despite the deceptively chastened beige that carpets the floor and blankets the walls. We know that khakis pants conceal secrets; agreeable neutrality cannot hold; white-collar crime is most devastating. “One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” -Klaus Kinski*
The more important restraint is in Robert’s choice to give lots of air to the individual entries, resourcefully sculpting Andrew Kreps’ abundant square footage. In Triscuit, Robert has expanded some signature elements and diminished others, while insistently driving his aggressive pathos and regulatory formalism into a dazzling performative space. It’s a leap from his object-centric Unshamelessfulnessly of 2008. His signature Bottlecap paintings – highly tempting commodities – are absent, though their namesake elements appear in person and in photographic periphery. In these sculpture-painting hybrids, the bottlecaps are the defining medium, more so than the enamel that covers them. But you have to get the bottlecaps, and in this sense, beer (or soda) consumption is the real medium, just as Ed Ruscha’s automobile was really the medium, because it wheeled him from one gas station to another.
Likewise, and demonstrated here, Robert’s medium is domestic space, psychological and physical. Like many of us, his biographically-rooted psychological spaces must have been demarcated with destabilizing incidents (something happened here), while the physical spaces were compartmentalized with furniture and walls (gotten at Sears? A garage sale?).
In work yesterday and today, Robert redramatizes these spaces. He regenerates physical landmarks through a limited range of sculptures that include singular, commonplace objects – a chair, an oven, a rotary phone – and their compound aggregates (families?) – the Units. These remind me of the suburban household “entertainment center” merged with the ubiquitous framed photo vignette. Robert reanimates the psychological landmarks through his videos, events, and theatrical photos, the most notorious of which starred his mother voluntarily undergoing a demanding course of Melee in the director’s seat.
In Triscuit Obfuscation, we get the closest thing to a restaging of Robert’s youth home in New Jersey. Other artists have rebuilt apartments in the gallery, studios in the gallery, and galleries in the gallery; Robert absorbs this convention and subsumes it to his mixed-media, marbleized, carnivalesque, and carnal aesthetic.
From this home being resurrected, a small framed photo of a banister reveals the source of the sweeping intervention that violently cleaves into the gallery. The gallery’s banister is purely symbolic, because anyone ascending the marbleized stairs will climb them more like bleachers in an amphitheatre. The beveled door beneath the stairs, on the other hand, is functional, as it funnels us through “the cave,” a dark gauntlet of disturbing videos and structural lumber that welcome visitors into the show and into the multimedia Id of Triscuit Obfuscation.
On one monitor, in Peep Hole, a desperate woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown hollers, then weeps, into her mobile phone, in some kind of bitter lover’s quarrel. (This detached, diagnostic tone of describing a traumatic incident is exactly why the video is hard to watch. Anyone with a heart feels at least a tiny urge to help, but we’re as trapped in our moment as she is in her hallway.) In the neighboring Windowing, an imprudent, or more likely, exhibitionist, couple has sex near their window. Robert is handing us a contemporary “primal scene,” before delivering us into his schematic, zoned, carpeted interior populated by episodic altars.
Process Unit, austere in its equilateral triangle profile while profligate in its primped decadence, seems to preserve litter from Last Night’s Party as Last Night’s Memorabilia. Maybe someday they will be Last Generation’s Heirlooms. For now, they are bottom- to mid-shelf liquors, bargain decorations, and cups and glasses; all are mingled with photos and videos that stand in for tumultuous memories what happened after 2 a.m. or what could have happened, given sufficiently Dionysian company.
Except what party coexists with such morbid drama as seen here? Clock Her features a totemic figure with her hand frozen above her neck, as if hanging herself. The grandfather clock beneath her is also frozen, the hands on its face locked into a frown. Among the seeming bric-a-brac of Rite of Spring Mattress Unit, a sequence of framed photos of two dummies linked at the arm culminates as they leap (into the void?) from their upstairs window perch, like effigy Thelma and Louise, except instead of a car into a canyon, Robert’s dummies tumble onto a driveway. We don’t see them land – or at least I didn’t – which reminds me of those dreams we all have of freefalling: urban legend says that if you land, then you’re really dead.
*Thanks to artist Kathy Garcia for finding that Kinski quote.