Posts Tagged ‘Robert Melee’

A Dozen Surprises

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Through his career of over 20 years, Robert Melee has famously combined objects, performances, and environments that he augments with his signature, and often disfiguring, Midas touch.  Central to this oeuvre are his photographs, but this fact might not have been obvious before a dozen roses, his new solo show at Higher Pictures.


Robert Melee, “Facelift,” 1997 (l), “Penthouse,” 2002 (r)

In most of their prior appearances, Robert’s photographs have been integrated into his excellent “Units.”  In those compartmentalized, multi-media structures, Robert’s photos are almost indiscriminately crammed together with videos, party decorations, bric-a-brac, and disposable goods.  In this visual forcefeeding, the photos can get subsumed into the swirling marbleized surfaces and rigid planar geometries of the hosting Unit.  They remain within, unlike Freudian slips.

Yet, on a closer look, the photographs decode valuable scripts written through our Melee-ology.  Collected together, they are like a Rosetta Stone.  They are capsules of Robert’s performative values, which include bare flesh, movement, fetish, and unflinching sexuality.  One individual emerges as their champion.  The undisputed queen of Melee-mania is his mother, Rose.  “Mommy” is the star and muse of Robert’s suburban glamour, and of this selection of photos from his photographic catalog.

Most of these shoots with Mommy have been spontaneous: Robert visited her in New Jersey, the tempo quickened, and Robert whipped out his camera.  He styled her and arranged props and lighting.  He gently directed her, but Mommy seized the moment and improvised her role.  From looking alone, we don’t know enough about what these shoots have meant to Robert and Mommy, so we can’t comment on the power dynamics.*


Robert Melee, “Kitchen Table,” 1998 (l), “On the Road,” 1993 (r)

Indeed, if we didn’t know the story, would we guess that she is the artist’s mother?  The woman in these photos is mercurial, vivacious, clownish, and licentious.  Those qualities suit a cabaret performer or movie star.  But a mother?  Aren’t we culturally conditioned to seek other signs of motherhood, even for an adult son?  There are fictional precedents for all kinds of outrageous, discordant, or even villainous mothers: Norma Bates in Psycho, Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, Livia Soprano in The Sopranos.  But for artistic glimpses of real-life mothers of adult sons, many of us are accustomed to being fed mothers with domestically acclimated postures, tempered gazes, perseverance, and quiet dignity, despite the rocky pluralism of actual mothers.**

What drives these photos, among other things, is how we see Robert’s mother perform and behave in ways we don’t ascribe to mothers, and that is a chance to ask ourselves when our own mothers surprised us by stepping out from behind their motherly veils.  Whose mother hasn’t ruptured the patterns of motherhood with an unexpected opinion, outburst, or act, or even an unprecedented habit?  And maybe those surprises aren’t as extreme as Mommy’s misadventures, but is extreme degree the only difference?

*John Mendelsohn interprets Robert’s work with his mother as reenactment.  He writes of Robert’s Mommy videos, and I see no reason to exclude Robert’s photographs here: “These ‘home movies’ were in a sense caricatured portraits of a fraught relationship performed as farce or psychodrama.” Sculpture Magazine, November 2010

**Luckily, Richard Billingham, Leigh Ledare, and other demographically comparable artists have helped to diversify this field of imagery.

Purple and Cold

Friday, February 7th, 2014

What happens when one of the world’s most corrupt countries hosts the most expensive Olympics?  You get bribery and embezzlement.  What happens when one of the world’s most homophobic countries bans gay expression?  You get creative resistance.

Resistance to Putin’s Olympics includes boycotts, demonstrations, kiss-ins, a Google doodle, and even nail polish.  And arrests have begun, too.

Russia has come close to ruining the Olympics.  It has sparked a toxic triangulation of progressives versus the Olympics and Russia.  But let’s take the Olympics back, and turn that triangle: progressives and the Olympics versus Russia!

So what should cultural producers do?  They should produce!  Here’s Purple & Gold at Louis B. James Gallery, a design project and one-night exhibition for which New York artists created a “capsule collection” of queer tracksuits.  The tracksuits will be available for sale via PRINTALLOVER.ME, the print-a-porter startup founded by Jesse Finkelstein.  Proceeds from sales will benefit the Russian LGBT Network.

Designs by Robert Melee (left) and T.M. Davy (right)

Purple & Gold is curated and executed by David Fierman and PRINT ALL OVER ME.  Participating artists include Aay Kay Burns, Jibz Cameron, Deric Carner, T.M. Davy , Christian Dietkus, Scott Hug, Casey Legler, Kalup Linzy, Michael Mahalchick, Ryan McNamara, Robert Melee, Lucas Michael, Wardell Milan, David Mramor, Jack Pierson, Colin Self, David Benjamin Sherry, and more.

Concept by Jibz Cameron/Dynasty Handbag

Obfuscation Begins at Home

Thursday, October 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.

Robert Melee, 2011

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*

Robert Melee, "Rite of Spring Mattress Unit" detail, 2011

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.

Robert Melee, "Rite of Spring Mattress Unit," 2011

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?).

The other side

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.

Robert Melee, "Rite of Spring Mattress Unit" detail, 2011

Robert Melee, Triscuit Obfuscation, 2011


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.

Obfuscation Begins at Home

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.

Robert Melee, "Process Unit," 2011

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.

Obfuscation Begins at Home

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.

Robert Melee, "Clock Her," 2011

*Thanks to artist Kathy Garcia for finding that Kinski quote.

Stars Crossed

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Marilyn Minter with Robert Melee at last night's opening for Robert's "Triscuit Obfuscation"

SVA Armory Hey

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

At a glance, a few SVA faces at the Armory Show, which opened today:

SVA alumnus Lane Twitchell at Edward Nahem Fine Art

SVA Faculty member Mary Heilmann (on the wall) at 303 Gallery

SVA alumnus Robert Melee at Andrew Kreps Gallery

SVA alumna Phoebe Washburn at Zach Feuer Gallery

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