555 W 21st St, New York
April 20 – June 2, 2017
Working since the early 1980s across the disciplines of video, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, installation, and music, Graham's work stages layered narratives suffused with cultural and historical signifiers. For this occasion, he presents a new series of photographic lightboxes, each centered on the artist assuming a fictional archetype.
In his lightbox works, Graham portrays characters that both directly and obliquely reference art history and its manifold cultural implications. ‘Media Studies ‘77’ (2016) lovingly sends up academia's role in defining the narrative around creative production, as a pitch-perfect 1970s professor in a turtleneck and suede jacket sits atop his desk, smoking a cigarette in front of an expressionistically erased chalkboard. In another endearingly mocking portrait, an 'Antiquarian Sleeping in his Shop' (2017) is inspired by antique stores in Graham's native Vancouver. Graham plays the part of the shopkeep surrounded by his wares, projecting the unspecific knowledge of a dime-store curator. Flanked by his pseudo-scientific instruments and specimens, ethnic totems of spurious origin, books, paintings, and other assorted objets d’art, Graham portrays the Antiquarian asleep with a Harry Smith book open on his lap, implicitly dreaming of his own relation to the legendary polymath -- a pointed distillation of the learned dilettante role he inhabits.
Graham's fascination with paradigmatic characterization extends into the worlds of music, cinema, and pop culture as well. In ‘Dinner Break (Salisbury Steak)’ (2017), Graham poses as a jazz drummer eating a quintessentially 1960s Salisbury Steak dinner during a performance at a velvet-curtained nightclub. With his plate resting on his snare drum and his hands posing with his knife and fork as if they were drumsticks, the picture portrays the artist engaged in a simple human act, in stark opposition to the supernatural presence he is meant to portray on stage. ‘Coat Puller’ (2017) uses the stock action of an everyday man putting on his overcoat to conjure worlds of intrigue presented during the venerated Golden Age of moviemaking. The set is a replica of Alfred Hitchcock’s early film ‘The Lodger’, and Graham's frozen moment has all of the latent gravitas of the Master of Suspense's finest work.
"That's Not Me", a retrospective exhibition of Rodney Graham's work, opened on March 11 at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, and will subsequently travel to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Recent solo exhibitions include Le Constortium, Dijon, France (2016); Sammlung Goetz, Munich, Germany (2015); Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada (2012); Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria (2011); Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain (2010); Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (2009); Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, CA, USA (2004); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, UK (2002); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany (2001); and Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria (1999). He has participated in group exhibitions such as the Carnegie International (2013), the 13th, 14th and 17th Sydney Biennales, Australia (2002, 2006, 2010), the Whitney Biennial, New York, USA (2006) and the Biennale d’Art contemporain de Lyon, France (2003). Graham represented Canada at the 47th Venice Biennale, and was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2016 for his contributions to Canadian contemporary art.