São Paulo

Nicolás Robbio

Galeria Vermelho

Nicolás Robbio’s drawings—whether on paper or on other surfaces such as glass, wood, or walls—can be beautiful, delicate, intricate, or funny, but they are always smart. Seldom does one see such a sharp and fresh approach to an age-old medium, an investigation of formal qualities that isn’t primly formal. Robbio, who was born in Mar de Plata, Argentina, but is based in São Paulo, has been perfecting his craft and rendering it more and more complex as time goes on, and this exhibition, “Quase como Ontem” (Almost like Yesterday), was his most accomplished yet.

A video, 1P, 2004–2007, was shown on the gallery’s ground floor: In a static shot, a hand—the artist’s—uses a small brush to insistently sweep a seemingly clean surface that takes up the entire screen. But during the four minutes of the video the invisible becomes visible as more and more dust is gathered. No resident of polluted São Paulo is unfamiliar with the dust that collects on all surfaces, at street level or in high-rises, indoors and outdoors, at all times. 1P uses this phenomenon to play on surface and medium, appearance and reality, and to reflect on drawing (the white background) and painting (the brush), although the work is clearly neither.

Upstairs was a roomful of disparate untitled works, large and small, two- and three-dimensional, on the floor and on the walls. Across two walls, Robbio created a site-specific work incorporating an existing water stain, turning it into a kind of watercolor; a geometric drawing below it resembled the facade of the gallery itself. But was it abstract or figurative? Real or representational? This kind of questioning was the leitmotif of the show. Two rectangular glass vitrines mounted on wood tables held about twenty small items each; bits and pieces of paper, both drawn on and cut, rested on the table and were attached to the glass, the surface of which also featured incisions and drawings. Each small work in the glassen-cased collections has its own delicate and subtle peculiarities, yet the play of light between them, as one piece cast a shadow onto another below it, was particularly enticing.

The largest work in the show was a wall drawing consisting of a simple square grid that took up the entire back wall of the gallery. Looking more closely, one noticed a number of faint round smudges of dirt—the traces of a soccer ball that had been kicked against the abstract, two-dimensional grid. The soccer reference, evoked through a simple but rather violent gesture, transformed this pure, mute abstraction into an image: the goalkeeper’s net. Toward the middle of the room, a yellow tennis ball was suspended in midair via threads from the ceiling and floor. Again, on closer inspection, one noticed a further manipulation of the object: eight white cardboard corners attached to the ball, as if a cube and a sphere had been fused together. This small, bright, absurd object, executed with homespun perfection, seemed to catalyze and encompass all the others around it, summing up, like Jorge Luis Borges’s Aleph, all the vivid and contradictory inversions of scale and perspective, representation and reality seen elsewhere in a show where nothing was as it first appeared.

Adriano Pedrosa