A visual protest

1:28:15 PM CDT - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

By Shannon Littlejohn

Violence has long been a theme in artist Dario Robleto's sculpted works. Now, in light of events in Afghanistan and Iraq, his sculptures have taken on an anti-war theme made even more dramatic by the materials Robleto mixes to create them.

Bullet lead and bone dust, melted vinyl records, glass, rust and dirt are spun into conceptual pieces intended to provoke political and social connections. Robleto merges these elements much the way a contemporary DJ samples and cuts musical selections.

"He thinks of himself as a visual DJ," said Elizabeth Dunbar, curator of Wichita State's Ulrich Museum of Art where Robleto's exhibition "Eunuch Euthanasia" opened on Jan. 22 with an evening reception and gallery talk by the artist. The exhibit will run through Feb. 29.

Vinyl has always been Robleto's signature material, said Dunbar, and song titles are important to his work. In "Eunuch Euthanasia," however, he has moved away from the music component somewhat, she said. Only two works, "Vatican Radio" and "The Melancholic Refuses to Surrender," use music in a direct way. But all six pieces in the exhibition incorporate other wildly disparate elements.

"The materials are intrinsic to the ideals he's trying to put forth," said Dunbar. That's why his artwork comes with liner notes, she said. Viewers can take something away from the exhibit without reading the notes, but it's far more compelling with them.

"Conceptual artwork requires some intellectual engagement," she said.

"Eunuch Euthanasia" represents a turning point in Robleto's career and is the most political of his recent work, said Dunbar.

At 31, she said, Robleto is consciously beginning to advocate against the indifference that has marked his age group, known as Generation X and otherwise known as slackers and the apathetic generation.

One of the pieces, titled "Our 60's Radicals Forgot to Stay Suspicious," goes to the heart of apathy and memory by replicating an Aug. 8, 1945 newspaper account of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The news page and its frame, eerily realistic, are actually handmade from bone dust, bullet lead and other symbolic materials, all shrouded behind glass produced from the first atomic bomb test explosion.

The artist is saying that repeating our mistakes carries a high cost, said Dunbar. "It's an endless cycle," she said, "and we never seem to learn."

"Eunuch Euthanasia" recently won an award from the National Art Critics Association for Best Gallery Exhibition of 2003. Robleto's work was also featured on the cover of Art Form magazine in its Best of 2003 issue. The artist has also been selected for the Whitney Biennial in New York City, which opens in March. The biennial is the Whitney Museum of American Art's signature survey of contemporary American art.

"Eunuch Euthanasia" is a free exhibit at WSU's Ulrich Museum of Art. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 1-5 p.m. weekends.

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