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Rodney Graham

March 9, 2003 – May 25, 2003


The Madison Art Center will present the first North American retrospective of the films and videos of Vancouver-based artist Rodney Graham. In six works dating from 1994 through 2001, Graham explores the power of film and the nature of illusion. The exhibition touches on the mechanics of cinema as well as the lasting appeal of such well-known genres as the Western and the adventure movie.

In Corruscating Cinnamon Granules (1996), an apparent celestial vision is revealed to be the result of spreading household spice on an electric cooking element in a darkened kitchen. As with much of the artist’s output, the works transcend the apparent banality of their subject matter to raise profound questions about nature, technology and the human condition in a highly engaging and original way.

A trilogy of short Hollywood-inspired 35mm films starring the artist himself forms the centerpiece of the exhibition. In Vexation Island (1997), How I Became a Ramblin’ Man (1999), and City Self/Country Self (2000), Graham appears in various historical guises performing simple, ritualized actions that run the gamut from maudlin to slapstick. The events depicted are made all the more enigmatic—though no less captivating—by the fact that the films are viewed on a continuous loop.

The exhibition is framed by two works in which Graham embarks on solitary journeys. Halcion Sleep (1994) is a single-take video of the pajama-clad artist asleep in the back of a van as it travels the outskirts of Vancouver. The Phonokinetoscope (2001), Graham’s latest film, has the artist bicycling through a Berlin park after taking a hallucinogenic. Documentary in style, these works forgo the psychedelia typically associated with altered states, focusing instead on the social and historical underpinnings of escapism.

At 53, Graham is prototypical of a generation of artists to come of age in the 1970s: conceptually oriented, fluent in various media, and highly literate in both academic and popular culture. While the artist has said he would like to have been a writer or a musician, in fact he not only scripts but records the soundtracks for his films. But Graham may best be described as a philosopher for the twenty-first century, or a kind of Everyman for the Information Age—equally at home with Freud and MTV, making meaning where art and entertainment meet.

Graham’s work has been the subject of numerous museum and gallery exhibitions throughout North America and Europe, including a major survey last fall at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. In 1997 Graham represented Canada in the Venice Biennale. A photographer as well as a film maker and recording artist, he is best known for an ongoing series of large-format photographs of inverted oak trees.

Exhibition Support

Rodney Graham is organized by the Madison Art Center. The exhibition has been made possible through the generous support of J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional funds from the Madison Community Foundation and the Overture Foundation; the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation; Duncan Highsmith; The Art League of the Madison Art Center; the Exhibition Initiative Fund; the Madison Art Center’s 2002-2003 Sustaining Benefactors; and a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin.