Robert Rohm

Worcester Art Museum

Objects, things—Robert Rohm has equated them with sculpture-making for much of his career. In his most recent show, finely crafted and carpentered ensembles of wood, conduit, rope and lead echo a vocabulary of forms and materials refined over the past decade. Rohm considers his objects as primary things—not in the sense of minimal reductions but as hermetic, solid units, entities in themselves.

Every move made—binding with rope, bolting and fastening, choosing heavy, massive materials and using large-scale volumes and voids—lends these works an assertiveness that dominates any other approach we might consider. Rohm is very much in control of his process here—the material does what he wants it to do, with a seeming ease in the finished state. Thus, stout shafts of timber flow around seemingly thin-walled metal pipe, extended lengths of corrugated, large-diameter tubing rest gently on lath cradles, massive pieces of wood are smoothly carved into flowing aerodynamic configurations and flat lead sheets become thick lead solids.

Too much control, indeed too much “object-ness” would quickly pale, for virtuosity in itself has little merit. However, the most intriguing aspect of Rohm’s present work is the dichotomy between its repertoire of details and our overall perception of its tailored forms. This deviation is first sensed in the clash of materials-smooth cool metal with rough splintery lath, dull lifeless lead and warm-toned wood or cord. These are never totally integrated, but remain distinct even as they are interlocked in structural tensions.

Rohm emphasizes the vitality of his works through their placement; whether wall-sized horizontal pieces or smaller objects, many lean or rest upon something else. The classic “stand on the floor/hang on the wall” posture is disrupted. Leaning becomes the essence of dependency, a strategy allowing humor, interaction arid equivocation. Thus the context becomes part of the sculpture—it is support as well as surrounding, physical as well as visual. In each of these leaning or resting pieces—like the Untitled (double leaning), 1979, which is propped against a wall, or the over-20-foot-long Untitled (Andy’s Shelf), 1978, in which the metal element is suspended and resting within a wooden shelf—the strongest sense is that the artist’s act is somehow incomplete, relying on happenstance, the specificity of time and place.

Untitled (Wedge), 1979, draws upon such factors by echoing a long concrete wedge set mysteriously into the baseboard of the gallery that the artist noticed when he first saw the space. The object itself mediates between solid and void, structure and surface almost like a drawing in wood. While it will lose its site-specific character if it is shown in a different exhibition in the future, it will still retain these polarities as an independent object. Here, as in most of the other works, even the title suggests an avoidance of definite decision-making. In his shelf motifs and.his large rope pieces, as well as his current works, Rohm reveals his propensity for a wry wit, perhaps one that he himself is not yet ready to admit. Thus, his titles are bland descriptions with parenthetical asides, a neutral nomenclature coupled with inevitable vernacular references. The wit goes far deeper here as we are struck with the sarcasm inherent in some of his formal contrasts and apparently informal arrangements. These are not, however, accidental; Rohm uses these seemingly less-than-perfect details to open his sculptures up, making them real, aligning them more directly with our experience.

Ronald J. Onorato