“Brilliantly paradoxical work”
Since the mid-1970s, Rodney Graham has re-examined some of the foundations of Western culture. As curator Josée Bélisle notes, his work is brilliantly paradoxical, based on a unique synthesis of rigour and melancholy, humour and erudition, coherence and eclecticism. Repetition, quotation, and cascading, nested images are among the formal, psychological and philosophical strategies that he uses. These strategies of appropriation and transformation contribute to the development of an art that is thoroughly original and highly personal, all the more so as the artist is often the featured player in his photographs and films. It is a powerful work imbued with multiple meanings.
The exhibition features 10 major works by the artist, nearly all of them produced in the last three years and presented here for the first time in Canada. Remarkably, Graham created four superb new installations just this year for the presentation at the museum. Three Musicians (Members of the Early Music Group “Renaissance Fare” Performing Matteo of Perugia’s “Le Greygnour Bien” at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, Late September 1977) reconstructs, in a photographic triptych, the fictional performance of the late fourteenth-century piece of music. Lobbing Potatoes at a Gong plunges us into the 1960s with a Fluxus-type performance. Awakening references a Chris Walter photograph of the group Black Sabbath, with Graham here taking the place of the tramp lying on a park bench. Paradoxical Western Scene, for its part, revolves around this major movie genre.
Graham also inserts himself in some famous scenes in art history, which he recreates in his own way. The Glass of Beer, 2005, quotes Andy Warhol’s famous silk-screened self-portraits and Manet’s Le Bon Bock (in turn inspired by Franz Hals). In Allegory of Folly: Study for an Equestrian Monument in the Form of a Wind Vane, 2005, the artist depicts himself as the philosopher Erasmus as painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. Here, however, the rider is mounted backward on a mechanical horse of the kind used for training, and totally engrossed in reading… the Vancouver phonebook. Torqued Chandelier Release, 2005, virtually a still life in motion, refers to an experiment with motion and gravity conducted by Isaac Newton. And in Loudhailer, Graham portrays an RCMP officer struggling with a megaphone.
In addition, the exhibition includes two works recently acquired by the museum—How I Became a Ramblin’ Man, 1999, and Screen Door, 2005—in which Graham revisits some mythic emblems of the twentieth century: that of the western movie and its lone hero in Ramblin’ Man, and Graceland, Elvis Presley’s famous mansion, in Screen Door.