Galleries

A Morbid, Unsettling But Guilty Art Pleasure

by Howard Hurst on September 27, 2011

Detail of "Triscuit Obfuscation" (all photos by the author unless otherwise noted)

Robert Melee is known for his sculpture and multimedia installations that, with heavy doses of nostalgia and grit, poke and prod our human experiences. His latest show, Triscuit Obfuscation, is currently on view at Andrew Krepps Gallery in Chelsea. His sculptures are kind of ramshackle and oozy in a way that harkens back to the Ab-Exers, Dada and all that jazz.

From what I’ve seen of the artist it’s his wall pieces and installations that are the most unexpected. Much of his work embodies the awkward family photo, full of tension. It’s the kind of thing you might find at a dusty thrift store somewhere in Arkansas. Whatever you think about these, I think it is safe to say Melee is an artist who probably never quite got over his childhood. Maybe it’s just a shtick, all I know is that it’s gross, disturbing and at points riveting.

"Triscuit Obfuscation" (Image courtesy Andrew Kreps Gallery)

I’m not usually attracted to this kind of thing, but I have to say the artist wields his 1970s Gonzo lens with particular acuity. This most recent of shows is particularly disturbing. The artist installed marbled puke colored bleachers inside the gallery, complete with overly domestic white railing. Visitors approach the space through a tunnel underneath the bleachers, subjected to a range of the artist’s video works. The feeling is morbid and unsettling. The space itself has been adorned with a charming shag carpet. The artist has installed two sorts of psychedelic shelving/media alcoves, a demented mash up of what a family mantel/living room bookshelf might have looked like 40 years ago is included.  I couldn’t help but feel as if I had taken too much acid and woken up as a 12 year old on my way back home from school.

Triscuit Obfuscation

The overall effect was overpowering, like being shot through with the artist’s mutant vision of domestic life. Through the afterglow of creepy intrigue I couldn’t but help wonder about the range of videos and photographs on display. Men and woman sit in chairs covered in confetti and streamers, slimed with what appears to be paint and food.

A combination of mardis gras and fetish porn, these images seemed gross for the sake of gross. (Think Nickelodeon game shows from the 1990s meets weirdo internet porn.)  Perhaps the whole thing went a little overboard. I admire the artist’s ability to cultivate an aura, to transmute the gallery space into something altogether different. There is a definite sense of psychic violence that seems to pervade the space, something lying dormant far from the culture of the art world. On the other hand, doesn’t the nudity/gross food smashing thing seem a little par for the course? I’m not hating on the whole drippy, gritty aesthetic, I just wonder where to draw the line between shock with a purpose and shock for shock’s sake.

I would be lying if I claimed I didn’t like this show, perhaps more accurate would be to admit that it fascinates. That is Melee’s power, he draws you in, grosses you out and sends you home shaken, and perhaps a little ashamed for enjoying what you have seen.

Robert Melee’s Triscuit Obfuscation is currently on view at Andrew Kreps Gallery (525 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) until October 22.

 

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