Robin Rhode: Perry Rubenstein Gallery
By Tom Breidenbach
Though much of his work depends on performance, South African artist Robin Rhode's recent exhibition at Perry Rubenstein Gallery comprised elegant sculpture, photography, and film that functions independently of the action that gave birth to it. Spade, 2007, for example, is a small cast of a shovel in gold-plated bronze. A succinct fusion of the rarefied and the quotidian, it mutely avers that value lies in the doing as much as in what gets done. Empties, 2007, comprises a Carling beer crate filled with hand-blown dark green bottles whose fragile stems are gracefully elongated to human height and resemble flowing reeds. The contrast between the found crate and the "reproduction" bottles might also reference the gap between the political context of the artist's boyhood (due perhaps to its black label, Carling was associated among South Africans with the struggle against apartheid) and his current professional success.
One critic notes that Rhode's subjects resonate with his background as a "colored" South African (the term is used in that country to denote people of mixed race). The interplay of much black and white media in the exhibit--the large wall drawing Head and Tales, 2007, which consists of dark marks made using spray paint and abalone shells cast from charcoal--arguably accentuate this. (One charcoal shell is displayed as part of the work.) Yet his references are also close to being universal. Soap and Water, 2007, for example, features an old-style bicycle cast out of green soap, lying on the floor next to a bronze bucket of water. It is a remarkably allusive form, connoting all the chores one might do to acquire a bike, as well as the ephemeral nature of even the most treasured possession.