Published Art in America (online), April 26, 2010
Robert Thiele’s is an art of secrets. For more than three decades, the artist, who divides his time between Miami and Brooklyn, has created paintings and sculptures geared to a poetry of concealment and of sensuously handled form.
In his recent show at Dorsch, a stately procession of tall (7 to 10 feet high), narrow concrete monoliths dating from the 1980s occupied the center of a large gallery, suggesting stelae or signposts. Each work is differently proportioned and assembled; some have stepped bases, interlocking parts or bands in different tones of concrete. The artist insets near the top of each a rectangular box, some with glass fronts and backs, containing arrangements of wood or canvas. A frieze of about 20 off-white slablike objects hung high along the walls to either side of the monoliths. Made of cloth stretched over wood frames, these are about 5 inches deep and 2½ feet on their largest side, and date from 1992 to 2001. With variegated surfaces that include white paint strokes, pencil lines and rectangular cutouts, they resemble ancient tablets.
From the late 1990s to the present, Thiele has produced similar wall-mounted constructions, a number of which were included here, that hang at eye level and assume a wider variety of shapes, from round or square to trapezoidal or oblong. Stretched over shaped frames, they are made of fabric that partially conceals drawn or photographic images inside and often bears random sequences of numbers, a jumble of letters or an abstract form. These works are intimate in their address to the viewer and equally eloquent; they seem to proffer important information that cannot be grasped, instilling in the viewer a profound sense of loss and longing.
Among Thiele’s finest newer works are drawings he has been producing since the mid-1990s in collaboration with Arezou Ghavami, a young Iranian artist who was once his student. Here, Thiele’s sensitively drawn images in ink, graphite and white paint are interspersed with texts Ghavami writes in Farsi. In one such drawing on vellum, the outline of an amphora fills the surface, a graph with numbered axes superimposed upon it. A graceful trickle of Farsi script runs along the drawing’s right side, resulting in a work that is, to the Western viewer at least, both inscrutable and lovely.