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Major new retrospective exhibition of Rodney Graham opens at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
Rodney Graham, The Avid Reader. 1949 2011. © Rodney Graham. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

GATESHEAD.- BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead is presenting a major retrospective of renowned Canadian artist Rodney Graham.

Rodney Graham - That’s Not Me is the artist’s first major UK exhibition since his solo show 15 years ago at the Whitechapel (2002). Spanning BALTIC’s two largest galleries, the exhibition include retrospective highlights from Graham’s established career. A ‘shapeshifter’, Graham’s diverse practice encompasses the artist in many guises—a painter, photographer, sculptor, video-maker, actor, performer, producer, historian, writer, poet, sound engineer and musician. He is a master of many disciplines creating multi-layered and complex art through photography, film, video, sculpture, performance and music.

With influences as diverse as Sigmund Freud, Alfred Hitchcock, the Brothers Grimm, Black Sabbath and Kurt Cobain, he creates works brimming with references to art history, films and literature, many with a cyclical or roving narrative.

When artist John Baldessari was asked whom he thought was the most important or influential contemporary artist, he responded: “Rodney Graham”. Often a touchstone for other artists, Graham is charismatic and highly inventive, with a huge influence on artists and curators across generations. Since the 1980s, Graham has been internationally recognised for his intellectually rigorous art; he represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1997 and, amongst other awards, was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2017.

In the late 1970s, just in his early 20s, Graham was one of several artists in the Vancouver scene to be in a new-wave, post punk band called UJ3RK5 ("you jerk") which included Graham along with artists Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace. Music continues to play a big part in his creative experimentation; his current ensemble, the Rodney Graham Band, morphs between country, rock, folk and psychedelia.

Presenting specific moments from his career, the exhibition at BALTIC highlights works that explore the artist’s treatment of silent film and video, including Torqued Chandelier Release, 2005, where an image of a spinning chandelier becomes a hypnotic, dizzying spectacle. Brought together in an innovative display, presentations of earlier film and video including Coruscating Cinammon Granules 1996, and Rheinmetal/Victoria 8 2003 transforms the vast Level 4 gallery into a whirring brain ‘thought experiment’, where the only sound is that of the film projectors creating a silent, cinematic experience.

Further exhibition highlights on Level 3 include a significant installation of the distinctive photographic light-boxes, such as the quartet of works The Four Seasons 2011-13, which focus on Graham’s use of the self-portrait to explore scenarios from our cultural collective memory. These striking, complex images document suspended moments in time, revealing the depth of Graham’s concept of the self-portrait, and the various ways in which he is able to reference history. One such work is Smoke Break 2 (Drywaller) 2012, a key piece in the exhibition. Inspired by observed events, the artist witnessed a plasterer having a cigarette break while standing on metal stilts, used to reach the upper part of walls. Combining his fascination with art history together with everyday life, Graham explores his interest in the painterly aspects of preparing drywall and its relationship to abstract painting. Other highlights include works as part of series of images around newspapers and reading, such as the recent Newspaper Man 2017, in which Graham is seen sitting on bench in a park in Vancouver and appears to hide behind a newspaper with cut-out eyeholes. Newspaper Man as a self-portrait may be said to reference Pablo Picasso’s interest in African masks and is associated with a kind of voyeurism and subterfuge with additional subtle associations to Marcel Duchamp’s infamous last work Étants Donnés (1946-1966).

Another arrangement of images celebrates Graham’s long-time interest in music and music making.

Alessandro Vincentelli, BALTIC Curator comments, “Rodney Graham’s experimental and adventurous practice has thrilled and confounded audiences for more than 30 years. With one eye on art history and another on pop culture, he creates art that asks questions of us. Graham’s works have conceptual and literary origins, from his films to large tableau-like photographic works. Graham’s practice is continually reinventing itself, questioning and offering up numerous versions of our possible selves.”

The show is accompanied by an illustrated publication with critical essays and commentaries by, amongst others, art historians Professor Briony Fer and Patrik Andersson. The exhibition has been developed and organised by BALTIC, with the publication developed in collaboration with the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, Dublin, where a version of the exhibition will travel, opening 23 November 2017.

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