When the Artist Speaks

A Review of Michael A Robinson’s Solo Exhibition

The Object as Evidence at SL Gallery, New York

Michael A. Robinson, The Origin of Ideas, 2013, found lamps, tripods, and electrical cords, 6 x 6 x 9 ft,, Image: courtesy of SL Gallery

Trekking down 38th Street in the heart of the garment district on a Thursday evening in October, I made my way to SL Gallery where Michael A. Robinson’s solo exhibition, The Object as Evidence, was on view. As I pushed open the large steel door to the gallery I found myself immediately subsumed within a group of onlookers similarly clad in all-black. The artist’s talk had already begun and attention was fixed upon Robinson, a tall slender man with sandy-blonde hair standing beside a projector that cast images of artwork onto the wall behind him. Arms extended and eyes twinkling, Robinson elucidated upon the evolution of his work.

However, despite his enthusiasm and charisma, it was all but impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. That elephant happened to be The Origin of Ideas, 2013, a massive sculptural assemblage of lamps, tripods and electrical chords fashioned into a hovering orb of light and metal. The piece, later described to me as a “Medusa-head-of-a-sculpture” by William Schwinghammer, SL Gallery founder, threw its glow throughout space and authoritatively set the tone for the show.

Michael A. Robinson, The Object as Evidence, Installation view. Image courtesy of Tony Long

Comprised of photographs, sculptures, drawings, and digital prints the comprehensive exhibition was outwardly united through an austere palette of black and white and represented Robinson’s unwavering fascination with materials. As the group moved from the main exhibition space towards the back viewing gallery, Robinson revealed the origin stories behind a number of works including the work #artist (Instagram Loading Image), 2018. This backlit image mounted on a lightbox belongs to a collection of screengrabs the artist compiled based upon their formal abstract qualities. Buffering into eternity the image will never be revealed. Thus the work baits the viewer with possibilities, enticing them to wonder what the image is and what it could be. Installed at the end of a corridor Robinson again utilizes light as a medium to lure viewers in like moths to a flame.

Michael A. Robinson, #artist (Instagram Loading Image), 2018, print in lightbox frame, 40 x 40 in / 101.6 x 101.6 cm. Image: courtesy of SL Gallery

Sculpture, as a discipline, is the undeniable cornerstone of Robinson’s practice. This comes across in his adoration and deep understanding of the materials he employs. Mainly relying upon industrial or utilitarian objects from everyday life, he prudently decides what makes it out of the hardware stores and past the threshold into his studio. For Robinson, the materials and objects he gathers are an inspirational springboard for his ideas and serve as the building blocks for each work. Researching and sourcing the right materials is, for Robinson, a long and methodical process unto itself which comprises about half of this time. Throughout the talk, Robinson pledged his humble allegiance to technology and explained that his work was contingent upon innovations in energy-efficient lighting and the ability to discover and source materials through the internet. Pieces such as The Object as Evidence and Constellation Scorpio took a number of years to complete as the artist patiently waited for the right technology or product to become available so he could continue working.

Michael A. Robinson, Constellation Scorpio, 2013, Cast hydrostone and black paint, 14 x 14 in / 35.56 x 35.56 cm each. Image courtesy of Tony Long

Once the right materials are acquired, the real work begins as Robinson allows his intuition and eye to take the wheel and guide the work. “Drawing with objects through images,” a key phrase repeatedly referenced throughout the evening, seemed to serve as a mantra for the artist’s intentions. It affirmed and contextualized Robinson’s multi-disciplinary approach which was perhaps most visible within a series of large framed photographs installed in the main gallery. Depicting assortments of indistinguishable objects set within a shallow stage-like space, each photograph transforms their subjects into performative lines and cryptic symbols. Staged within the confines of his studio, these arrangements riff on the relationships each object has with space and light. It is nearly impossible to not picture Robinson dashing about his Montreal-based studio arranging and rearranging hoses, piping, and dowels until a satisfying composition is achieved. This series of photographs demonstrates Robinson’s ability to carefully reimage the visual potential of each object within a constructed scenario in order to produce images that are simultaneously voluminous and flat.

Michael A. Robinson, Untitled, 2019, Framed inkjet print on paper, 35 x 35 in / 88.9 x 88.9 cm
Image: courtesy of SL Gallery

In an era of information access and instantaneous answers, curiosity and wonder are short-lived rarities. However, Robinson’s works spanning from 2003 to the present are uncanny formal investigations that usher viewers back into a realm of refreshing ambiguity and playful fascination. “You should see the security camera footage,” says Schwinghammer, with a chuckle gesturing towards Robinson’s The Origin of Ideas, “people literally stop in their tracks when they see it through the window.” Even in its final form, Robinson’s work is an animate generator of questions; a beguiling puzzle of objects and forms that implore a closer look. Throughout the exhibition, it’s clear to see how Robinson’s sculptures, photographs, and drawings constructed with familiar materials are fantastical amalgamations that celebrate technology and the aesthetics of the quotidian.

The Object as Evidence is on view at SL Gallery, 335 West 38th St New York, until November 1st.

Michael A. Robinson, Square Root, 2019, Framed inkjet print on paper, 25 x 25 in / 63.5 x 63.5 cm
Image: courtesy of SL Gallery
Katie Hector is an artist, curator, and writer living and working in New York City. While holding a studio practice Hector is also an independent curator and the Co-director of Sine Gallery which represents emerging and mid-career interdisciplinary artists . She has worked to organize and fundraise a variety of projects including international exhibitions, site specific environmental installations, and over two dozen group shows, screenings, pop up events, and panel discussions.