Rob van Erve: Operae Pretium Est at Accola Griefen

by Harry Finkelstien

 Rob van Erve. Some Things Are Heavy But They Ain’t Worth the Weight, 2012, plastic, ribbons, grommets and found materials, 55″ x 28″ x 28″

Seeing Rob van Erve’s show, Operae Pretium Est, at Accola Griefen Gallery, I was reminded of the notion that in New York City, a home can be precisely decorated according to its owner’s ideal and the ugliest, dirtiest person in the world can walk right by the window and become a part of it.  The context cannot be ignored.  One of the gallery walls has different star shapes cut out of it.  Through fine fabrics spilling out of the thickness of the wall around the edges of the stars and silk ropes coming from over top to support the weight of the dangling, gold-leafed missing pieces, neighboring buildings, empty lots, and construction can be seen.  

 Rob van Erve. Operae Pretium Est, 2012, wood, MDF, steel, joint compound, and gold leaf, dimensions variable.

A big gold-leafed staircase dominates the front room of the gallery.  Gold molding lines the edges of the floor and spills out into the next room, upturns, and flares into fabric.  The ornateness is not used as it might typically be in a decorative sense, to cover up the construction or embellish plainness.  It is used alongside it.  The sides of the gold-leafed stairs are unsmoothed plaster.  The star cut-outs in the wall, while covered in gold leaf, leave some lath exposed.  The construction is made known…it is to be appreciated– beauty minus illusions.  Rob van Erve extracts the aesthetic value of gold and silk without being tied to its implications.  Nor does he ignore the implications.  As the title of the show indicates, it is all worthwhile.


Rob van Erve. Always, 2012, sheet rock, metal, gold leaf, fabric and silk rope, dimensions variable.

The compilation of contrasts is an acknowledgement of context, carefully selected, yet all-inclusive.  The works on paper with photographs and found materials relate to the other pieces through the wavering of contexts.  The paper looks aged as do some of the photographs, black and white and faded.  But elements in each make them transcend an otherwise nostalgic aesthetic.  Untitled (staircase) involves a photo of stairs in a city with an upside down photo of stairs in nature below it.  The two photos are black and white– their content could be contemporary or a hundred years old.  The paper they are taped to is yellowed.  It is one piece of tape, the green tab that begins a roll of Scotch tape, that transforms the whole piece.  Another, Untitled (castle), has a photo of a silhouette of a building discernible as a castle only by plastic stud stickers lining the top of it.  Next to it is a photo of a girl with a plastic star sticker used as her hairpiece.  Rob van Erve combines a wide range of elements in these works, (photos, photobooth strips, monuments, ballerinas, bottle caps, decorative three ring binder stickers, scribblings), to a harmonious effect.

One of the best pieces in the show, Oh Harry, is a UFO shape made of polypropylene squares sitting on the floor, tilted to the side by the weight of steel Jewish stars on sticks.  Another piece, Some Things Are Heavy But They Ain’t Worth the Weight, is a clear plastic castle turret with blue ribbons tied in bows around grommets.  A big fake flowing plant rests on top.  It appears heavy as the castle is made light and airy.  As with the suspended star cut-out and pictured monuments, Rob van Erve both embraces and obscures the weightiness of form and symbol.


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