Rodney Graham
Renaissance Man. Works 1400–1977

Past Exhibition 21 Oct – 22 Dec 2006 Zurich


Canadian artist and musician Rodney Graham (b. 1949) has created a varied body of work since the 1970s, making use of such diverse media as film, photography, installation, painting, prints, literature and music. He has visualised the interconnections between the various layers of everyday life and cultural history with a great deal of poetic irony, finesse and conceptual originality. Exploring and reflecting on works of art, music and literature as well as events in the intellectual history of all periods, he has created a complex oeuvre that delicately balances reality and fiction.

The work of Rodney Graham has been shown in numerous solo exhibitions, among them a retrospective that toured the US and Canada in 2004–05 (including, among other venues, MoCA Los Angeles, ICA Philadelphia, Vancouver Art Gallery) and shows at the Whitechapel Gallery London (2002) and at Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin (2001). The artist was included in Documenta IX (1992), the Venice Biennale (1997) and this year’s Whitney Biennial in New York.
In connection with the Kurt-Schwitters-Prize, which Rodney Graham received this year, a solo exhibition will open in November at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover. Currently his works can be seen at a solo show in Montréal and later in November at the Kunsthalle in Bergen, Norway.

The show at Hauser & Wirth in Zurich centres on three new works that together form a trilogy. This group of cinematic and photographic works, all featuring the artist as a performer, focuses on the 1970s and their optimism and idealism, casting a contemporary look on the decade that is both critical and ironical.

The film Lobbing Potatoes at a Gong (1969) (2006), shot on 16mm and presented as a looped projection, fictitiously documents a 1969 performance strongly reminiscent of the Fluxus movement. The artist, played by Rodney Graham, is shown sitting on a chair in the setting of an alternative cultural institution, with an audience watching him trying to hit a gong with potatoes. All the potatoes that actually hit the gong were subsequently used to produce vodka in a small still. The bottle is displayed in a showcase, both an end product and part of the work. As in many of Graham’s films, the relatively simple plot is in stark contrast to the effort that went into the production, with the artist conducting extensive research and hiring a professional film crew.

The photo work 3 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) (2006), conceived as a triptych and mounted in a light box, stages a musical performance in 1977. The 15th-century music referred to in the title, almost atonal and rhythmically highly complex in the style of ars subtilior, was rediscovered in the 1970s to great public acclaim. The setting is a Modernist church in Vancouver, where a musical ensemble specialising in late medieval music is performing the piece. In the personification of the ‘Renaissance Man’, as the title of the exhibition, Rodney Graham again acts as the protagonist in front of the camera.

Reconstruction, reflection and the play on reality and fiction are also the themes of the photo work Awakening (2006). This diptych, comprised of a positive and a negative version, makes direct reference to a photograph of Heavy Metal band ‘Black Sabbath’. Graham restaged in detail the scene of a group photo taken for an LP cover in 1970. References to elements of rock and pop music are central to Graham’s work: he has himself produced music for thirty years and released a number of albums with his band.

Apart from this trilogy, the show will also present Screen Door (2005). The title object, usually a simple, cheaply-produced metal door with insect mesh, is propped against a wall, giving an impression of being quite out of place in the context of an art exhibition. In reality, however, it is a replica, made of solid silver, of the screen door at Elvis Presley’s mansion. The original door was sold, along with other Elvis memorabilia, at an auction in 1999. The choice of the exclusive material for such an ordinary object increases the legendary status of the onetime owner, while the positioning in an art context also ascribes new meaning to the object.

The show will also display a selection of new paintings and works on paper by the artist.

The artist book ‘Aficionado’ will be published by Steidl Hauser & Wirth in spring 2007.

Selected images

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Installation views

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About the artist

With a practice spanning five decades, Canadian artist Rodney Graham (1949 – 2022) operated through systems of quotation, reference and adaptation. From the 1980s, Graham expanded his diverse oeuvre to encompass photography, painting, sculpture, film, video and music. As actor, performer, producer,…

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