Look: The sponge dress, and other delights

 Pop Art goes to the bargain bin

Greg Thilmont

Andy Warhol brought a “factory” to New York City decades ago, and now local multidisciplinary artist Robin Barcus Slonina brings a “sweat shop” to Las Vegas. Like the Pop Art pioneer, Slonina is churning out bright, hyper-colored and playful aesthetics taken from everyday life.

For her first one-woman show, 99¢ Only Dress Shop at Atomic Todd gallery downtown, Slonina will be creating dresses from common items found at bargain shops, such as sponges and scrub pads; hula-hoop segments and day-glow plastic Easter eggs; poker chips and whatever else fits a tight budget. It’s glamour and home economics in one.

Slonina, a School of the Art Institute of Chicago BFA graduate, has a long train of conceptual dressmaking behind her. She has created scaffolding—tall yet form-fitting gowns from in situ items like corn stalks, pine cones and dandelions for outdoor artist-in-residence installations across the country.

Slonina has always been interested in “doing site-specific art based on the environment it’s placed in.” What urban environmental attribute did she notice first in Chicago and now here in Vegas?

She’s quick with a laughing response: “Dollar stores!”

Before this new show, Slonina had exhibited sculptures created from dollar-store-bought materials.

“I did a box actually made out of Brillo pads, sort of an homage to Andy Warhol,” she says.

Now Slonina is uniting her couture leanings with her frugal sculpting.

In talking with gallery owner Todd VonBastiaans months ago, she hit on the idea of showing dresses made from dollar-store items.

“It was the first time I decided to have a marriage of this dollar-store idea and the dress sculptures,” she says.

Slonina was able to dovetail further into the commercial ambiance of her subject by obtaining sponsorship from the 99¢ Only Stores chain after learning the company supports the arts in Los Angeles.

She sent a proposal packet and portfolio to the company.

“It eventually made it to the desk of the CEO, which I guess is hard to do. I think they get a lot of strange requests all the time. But they liked my packet, luckily enough,” Slonina says.

Slonina received sponsorship in the form of being included in the chain’s local newspaper ads and a fitting bundle of 200 $0.99 coupons for material costs. In return she branded her show—gladly, she notes—with the 99¢ Only Stores name included.

During the three weeks of Slonina’s exhibit, anyone can show up and participate as she tailors her conceptually creative dresses from cut-rate materials.

“People can come. I really believe in interactive arts,” Slonina says, happily noting that any takers will definitely be put to work sewing vibrant dresses from bargain-bin bolts of the most unexpected but everyday items.

“It’s sort of like a little artistic sweat shop here at Atomic Todd’s.”

Slonina’s giddy sartorial experiment will end with a fashion show bash on May 21.

99¢ Only Dress Shop

Opening reception: April 30, 7-10 p.m.; May 2, 6-10 p.m.

Exhibit-in-progress: Thur.-Sat., 2-7 p.m. or by appointment

Closing fashion show: May 21, 7:30 p.m.

Atomic Todd Gallery

1221 South Main Street


Photographs by Greg Thilmont

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