Review: Tampa Bay Tribune

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TAMPA BAY TRIBUNE

12:34 PM, Monday, September 23, 2013

Avant-garde shows at USF Contemporary art museum & Institute for Research in Art encourage reflection

The idea of habitation informs two very different exhibitions at the South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, one with expansive investigation, the other with cerebral circumscription.

“Paul Robinson: Form of Absence” is a less accessible experience but has the same potential gratification as the videos. I’m not a fan of long wall labels because I can spend more time reading them than interacting with the art. However, there are none in this exhibition and after a lot of looking, I’m still not exactly sure what I saw. At some point, I ceased trying to decipher individual works and let the whole thing wash over me.

“Form of Absence” is also an imaged environment but more abstract and conceptual. Robinson, an artist and architect, pays homage to Joze Plečnik (1872-1957), a Slovene architect who created buildings, parks and plazas that have defined the capital city of Ljubljana much as Antoni Gaudí did in Barcelona. We’re immersed not in a literal homage to Plečnik but instead a distilled interpretation of his aesthetic world. Almost every component was created by Paul Robinson in collaboration with Graphicstudio, the USF atelier that began decades ago with printmaking collaborations and has evolved into a cutting-edge incubator for artistic experimentation.

Many of the works are radiographs — X-rays — printed on exquisite papers and sometimes embellished with paint. A striking example of the creative manipulation of materials is a large-scale radiograph embedded with oils and plaster that are compressed into the paper and look like shards of glass. Many of them are of puppets in which the wood forms dissolve and the only clarity is in the metal pins. The sculptures in the show represent talismans of home: a bed, door, a table, just recognizable as such. Everything seems about to dissolve before our eyes. As with the video show, this one suggested an association with another artist. I found myself mentally reciting Wallace Stevens’ The Idea of Order at Key West, its “blessed rage for order . . . of ourselves and of our origins, in ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.”

Lennie Bennett (art critic for the Tampa Bay Tribune) can be reached at lbennett@tampabay.com or 001 (727) 893-8293.