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Nov 10, 2011
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In the details, or not

By Jim Duncan

Dario Robleto “Survival Does Not Lie In The Heavens” at the Des Moines Art Center

“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive.” - Albert Einstein.

Houston scientist-artist-disc jockey Dario Robleto hangs out near “the boundaries of life — those strange places where the longest of odds are defied.” There he seeks the world’s oldest living humans, curators for “The Guinness Book of World Records,” survivors of lightning strikes, scholars of antiquated medical practices, defiant gardens (built by soldiers in combat zones) and trench art (found object art built during combat). Robleto spends much of each year with scientists who study glaciers, collecting the flotsam of their melting masses — things like cave bear claws and wooly mammoth tusks. He also kicks around with North Sea fishermen, wounded soldiers and admirers of anything bizarre.

“I want to find the unexpected strangeness of a moment,” he explained.

A casual walk through the Des Moines Art Center’s exhibition, “Dario Robleto: Survival Does Not Lie in the Heavens,” might reveal nothing more spectacular than “another Day of the Dead memorial” as one opening night visitor described it. Like Einstein though, Robleto finds his inspiration in slight details. Just consider the media with which he works. In “No One Has Monopoly Over Sorrow,” he built a basket out of the skeletons of human soldiers’ ring fingers, covered with lead from melted bullets. The rest of that piece consisted of shrapnel, waxed dipped bridal bouquets, flowers of human hair that was braided by a Civil War widow and fragments of a mourning dress.

In “Defiant Gardens,” Robleto used paper he made from letters exchanged between soldiers and their wives or sweethearts, the skeletons of carrier pigeons, carrier pigeon message capsules, dried flowers collected on famous battlefields, mourning dress fabric, bullets and shrapnel, seeds, seashells, silk, gold leaf and glass. Even the small letters folded into carrier pigeons’ message capsules were from actual battlefield correspondences. This work could be mistaken for a funeral wreath, but only before the slight details are perceived. “Some Longings Survive Death” uses 50,000-year-old wooly mammoth tusks, hair flowers that intertwined hair of various 19th century lovers with that of mammoths, plus ivory, bone, ribbon and typeset. That work was enshrined in a case made of bocote, an endangered wood.

“The Common Denominator of Existence Is Loss” is the most dramatic piece in the show. A spotlight shines through a showcase, also made of bocote, which holds the paws of cave bear skeletons, which have been extinct for 50,000 years. They are intertwined with human hand skeletons around a braid of audiotape, which holds the first human recording in history. Shadows move under the showcase.

Other pieces in the exhibition are considerably more whimsical, mostly sweet parodies of music album covers and historical signs. Everything, though, is far more than the sum of its extraordinary parts. This exhibition plays through Jan. 15.

At Moberg Gallery, Mary Kline-Misol unveiled her two-year series, “Awakenings: The Journey from Pain to Empowerment.” Painting portraits of Des Moines’ homeless became therapeutic for Kline-Misol, whose husband, artist and surgeon Sinesio Misol, killed himself in 2010. The portraits in this exhibition leave faces poignantly unfinished, missing the fine details in Kline-Misol’s other portrait series (including a pair of Mahatma Gandhi and George Washington Carver that were unveiled last week at World Food Prize headquarters) or even in marvelous head studies of the same subjects included in the Moberg show. Sometimes the devil is in the detail, sometimes in their detachment.


After a year off, Metro Arts Expo will feature fine art by juried artists from across the United States, Nov. 4 and 5 at Capitol Square… Paintpusher’s Ten Year Exhibition features 31 current and alumni artists of the influential Des Moines art collective. Through Dec. 1 with a reception on Nov. 12… Olson-Larsen Galleries hosts new works by Sarah Grant, Thomas Jewell-Vitale and Paula Shuette-Kraemer, through Nov. 26. CV

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