Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dario Robleto's "Prelives of the Blues" at NOMA


During his last years, my frail 90-something-year-old grandfather had a caretaker who had been a nurse in her native Latvia. An avid butterfly collector, she liked visiting his ramshackle house with an acre of overgrown orange trees — all that remained of his citrus farm after Winter Park, Fla., engulfed it. Butterflies were plentiful there, and the nurse’s collection was beautiful and meticulous; in tray after tray her precisely ordered specimens lay resplendent in death.

 It’s not fair to compare Dario Robleto’s Prelives of the Blues show to a butterfly collection, but the parallels are inescapable — and inexplicable. Most of the 24 precisely ordered and taxonomically arranged sculptures and works on paper are said to be inspired by blues, jazz and rock ’n’ roll. They take many forms. For instance, in The Minor Chords Are Ours, bottom, he minor chords contained in a 60-year-old record collection were transcribed to audio tape stretched taut to resemble thread, then wrapped around wooden spools in Mason jars. In another, a pale, iridescent drumstick meticulously crafted from glass produced by atomic bomb tests turns out to be a tribute to the late rock drummer Keith Moon, and in Will the Sun Remember At All, top, the glowing stellar objects are actually blown up images of stage lights copied from old record album jackets. The Sun Makes Him Sing Again, above, is a light box take on some of James Brown's song notes and I Wish The Ocean Sounded More Like Muddy Waters features a tracery of tiny pink seashells spelling out the name “Muddy” like thin pink icing on vanilla cake.

What does any of this have to do with the blues or any other soulful music? Frankly, not much. If you want soul, go downstairs to the great Thornton Dial show. The strength of Prelives resides in its oddly convoluted obsessions and meticulous arrangements of objects taken far afield from their origins. It is mostly rather dry with a near Agatha Christie-like flair for inventive twists and wry intrigue. As with Christie, most of the clues lead you astray. ~Bookhardt

The Prelives of the Blues--New Work by Dario Robleto, Through Sept. 16, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;