On Robin Rhode

On Wednesday night, artist Robin Rhode kicked off his exhibition at LACMA with a performance. I was there with five of our high school interns as Robin burst through the doors of the Ahmanson Building, made his way quickly through the crowd, and began drawing on the wall with chalk. He grabbed a few audience members and involved them in pulling vigorously on the hastily sketched image of a rope. It looked as if they were miming a game of tug-of-war with an invisible opponent.

Robin picked Angela Hernandez, a senior at Fairfax High (and her skateboard), to be part of the piece along with a handful of other bystanders. Afterwards, I talked with Angela and the other interns about what they thought. Here’s what they had to say.

From left, high school interns Sequoyah Madison, Lexi Davis, Kelley Shim, Angela Hernandez and David Kamins in front of the wall drawing by Robin Rhode.

Angela Hernandez, Fairfax High School: I felt kind of shy. I don’t like to be the center of attention, so it was kind of weird and I didn’t really know what to do exactly. But as soon as he started to give us instructions and direction I was like, okay, this is cool. At first I thought he was being rude. But he has his intentions. I enjoyed it.

Kelley Shim, Beverly Hills High School: It was very unexpected. He really interacted with the drawing. You didn’t know exactly what he was doing, or what he might do next.

David Kamins, Hamilton High School: If an artist comes off as rude, I think he’s just trying to be very detailed. When he has other people in the work, he wants to make sure that they’re following his agenda and they’re going to produce the message he wants to get across to the audience.

Sequoyah Madison, Culver City High School: It makes you question reality. I liked the idea that you can just have a piece of chalk and get an idea across without showing your audience exactly what you’re thinking.

David: There was this ambiguity to it. Yes, there were instructions and you were told to pull on a rope, interact with an image on the wall. But what are we left with? The performance ended without any dénouement and people were sort of confused when it ended. I feel like that’s in the nature of performance art. There’s really no narrative. It’s ephemeral. It’s an interesting perspective you have to attain.

Angela: I don’t think art has to have a meaning. I’m sure it has one. But I think he’s given us a chance to think about it on our own. Art does that for people.

We also talked about the exhibition, including Robin’s Soap and Water (2007)—a bicycle cast out of soap lying next to a bucket of water.

Lexi Davis, Calabasas High School: I really liked the bicycle piece and I think it tied into the performance he did tonight. I was reading about him and he was saying that the piece isn’t permanent. You could just wash away the soap and it would be gone.  He never intended it to be there forever. And that was how his performance was too because the chalk could just be wiped away. You think of art as something that’s really permanent but his wasn’t at all.

David: You shouldn’t look at art based on the artist’s biography, but I liked seeing the artist tonight and getting a feeling for who he is. He has a personality.

A video of the performance is on view as part of the exhibition.

Amy Heibel

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