January 30, 2010 - Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) - Rodney Graham. Through the Forest
January 30, 2010

Rodney Graham. Through the Forest

Rheinmetall / Victoria 8, 2003
Courtesy of Col·lecció d’Art Contemporani Fundació “la Caixa”
© Rodney Graham, 2010

Rodney Graham.
Through the Forest
30 January – 18 May 2010

Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)
Plaça dels Angels, 1
08001 Barcelona


Canadian artist Rodney Graham’s exhibition entitled Through the Forest provides insight into the development of his complex body of work. The roots of Graham’s work, which is influenced by 1970s Conceptual art and its way of thinking, lie in the adaptation of literary models.

In 1986, Rodney Graham came across an English transla¬tion of the story Lenz by the German Romantic author Georg Büchner. In that translation, Graham discovered a peculiarity of the layout: the words ‘Through the forest’ appear twice at points where the story continues from one page to another. Graham’s interest was piqued and he realised the inherent possibilities of repetition. For him, the text became a loop, as the term is used in film terminology, and a key element to later works. Graham constructed a reading machine that he employed to make this experience both vivid and visible. The first five pages on which he recognised this phenomenon in the layout of the text are arranged so that the rotational effect becomes tangible. The device created appears like a machine for seeing.

Later, Graham made other constructions, like those for Parsifal (1990–2009), which bring to the viewer’s attention the infinite nature of a musical phrase that had been inserted into that opera. He also made objects that present books he found in antique shops. From there, it was only a small step to designing bookcases that resembled works of Minimalist art, mostly those by Donald Judd. An early example of this type of work is the bookcase-like object intended for the collected works of Sigmund Freud, on which Graham worked for years.

A significant part of this exhibition is devoted to his early works and the development of his oeuvre; to this end, the MACBA is showing the archive of Rodney Graham’s former Belgian publisher, Yves Gevaert, for the first time, allow¬ing viewers to make connections between his work and the material in this archive. An assortment of other materials has also been included in the exhibition, and it contributes to the understanding of how Graham’s ideas developed. The Judd-like objects for books are derived from book bindings and covers Graham himself designed. Sculptures are created based on the book as object, while concepts are created from their content.

The exhibition at the MACBA focuses on the films which, on a formal level, further the tradition of con¬ceptual-text works and light phenomena in terms of themes and motifs. For the film Coruscating Cinnamon Granules (1996), Graham strewed ground cinnamon onto a burner of the stove in his kitchen and filmed the glowing specks; the theatre space in which this film is shown has the same dimensions as the kitchen where it was made. Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 (2003) is an installation of a surrealistic image. Graham acquired an almost unused 1930s typewriter from a second-hand shop in Vancouver. First, he documented the object photographically, in the style of New Objectivity; he then covered it with flour to create a poignant image for words falling silent. Torqued Chandelier Release (2005) is related to the light phenomena explored in the cinnamon film. This second part of the exhibi¬tion deals with images that employ light effects, thus relating to photography in another way.

The third part of the exhibition deals with the role of the artist. In the film Lobbing Potatoes at a Gong, 1969 (2006), Graham re-enacts a scene from the history of rock music in which a musician throws potatoes at a gong in a sort of performance. In Graham’s piece, vodka takes the place of the potatoes; a bottle of vodka is part of the installation. Rodney Graham is interested in these kinds of ‘processes of translation’. Something that originated in literature becomes physical as it is rendered in another medium.

The theme of the role of the artist is also explored in the monumental triptych The Gifted Amateur, Nov. 10th, 1962 (2007). In this installation, Graham is a sleepwalking amateur painter who attempts to reproduce a large-format abstract painting that had obviously interested him when he was studying art. The scene in the light-box piece makes it look like a film still. Graham plays on the art historical discourse of Modernity in which diverse directions are represented. In 3 Musicians (Members of the Early Music Group ‘Renaissance Fare’ Performing Matteo of Perugia’s ‘Le Greygnour Bien’ at the Unitar¬ian Church of Vancouver, Late September, 1977) from 2006, and even more in the most recent work in this exhibition, enti¬tled Artist’s Model Posing for ‘The Old Bugler, Among the Fallen, Beaune-la-Rolande 1870′ in the Studio of An Unknown Military Painter, Paris, 1885 (2009), Graham continues to re-enact his¬torical paintings.

The exhibition Through the Forest displays a long path that goes from the adaptation of literary models and the appro¬priation of moments in art history to impressive film works, and finally culminates in a classical art medium, painting. In parallel to the exhibition at the MACBA, where the series of paintings Picasso, My Master (2005) is also on view, a series of reliefs by Graham will be exhibited at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. Entitled Possible Abstractions, this series constitutes a caricature of the polemically ironic attacks on the develop¬ment of modern abstract painting, and claims to be a new form of that brand of art.

Exhibition organized by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and coproduced with the Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel and Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg.

MACBA:30 January – 18 May, 2010, curated by Friedrich Meschede.
Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel: 13 June – 26 September, 2010, curated by Nikola Dietrich.
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg: October 22, 2010 – January 23, 2011, curated by Sabrina van der Ley.

The catalogue Rodney Graham. Through the Forest is published in Spanish, Catalan, English and German versions in coedition with the coproducing institutions, and Hatje Cantz Verlag. The publication includes texts by Julian Heynen, Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Friedrich Meschede and a biography by Grant Arnold.

Related to this exhibition in Barcelona, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona coorganise the presentation of Possible Abstractions, a project by Rodney Graham on view at the Museu Picasso.

Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)
Share - Rodney Graham. Through the Forest
  • Share
Click to subscribe to e-flux and be the first to receive the latest news on international exhibitions and all e-flux related announcements
Subscribe to e-flux
Be the first to receive the latest news on international exhibitions and all e-flux related announcements.
Subscribe to architecture
Explore the most recent content from e-flux architecture and urbanism
Subscribe to e-flux programs
Keep up-to-date on all upcoming talks, screenings, and exhibitions at e-flux in New York