It’s hard not to like the work of Robin Rhode, a South African artist who calls Berlin home, so it’s no wonder that Lehmann Maupin has given over both of its venues to him. But for all of their feel-good vibe, his efforts seem lightweight and shallow.
The gallery’s Chelsea space hosts his signature sequential photographs of wall drawings that change in tandem with the actions of a street performer—flinging a batonlike spanner into an infinite spiraling form, say, or tending to an ever-growing mass of hair with a giant Afro pick. Meanwhile, Rhode’s interactive installation for South Bronx schoolchildren takes up Lehmann’s LES location, where the kids colored in wall decals of houses, people and birds using giant crayons.
Admittedly, Rhode’s best new pictures have a quixotic appeal when their lone protagonist connects the fanciful goings-on to their urban setting. For instance, in one sequence he animates a bike’s wheels, repositioning them along a curving concrete barrier to appear as if he’s struggling up an impossible incline. But unfortunately, some of the other images are burdened with generic political messages that ape Banksy, like one of a bird flying to freedom over a barbed-wire fence.
It isn’t clear if Rhode has completely exhausted the possibilities of these photos, but one new direction—supersizing ordinary objects—doesn’t bode well. In Chelsea, two huge stainless steel compasses dangle from the ceiling, their legs bent as if dancing. Absent any raison d’être, they them seem like elephants in the room. And while it must have been a fun for the tykes to play with the huge crayons, the results aren’t likely to wow adults.