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Jet Set Saturdays: Robin Rhode at LACMA


Robin Rhode, Promenade, 2008. Digital animation. Duration 00:05:00. Image courtesy of the artist, Perry Rubenstein Gallry New York and Tucci Russo Studio per l’Arte Contemporanea, Torre Pellice.

It just occurred to me last night that silent cinema and early slapstick comedy could be considered a historical precursor to contemporary video and performance. Economical and exaggerated, the silent film is the international globe theater in terms of modern culture. Not to be taken lightly, the history of cinema is perhaps the most graphic portrayal of modernist art tropes familiar to this Jet-setter. From the magic realism of special effects to the minimalism of noir, love it or hate it, film is the by far the world’s most recognized art form. The South African artist (currently living in Berlin) Robin Rhode has managed to draw from the tradition of epic cinema and reconstitute it through the lens of an urban kid. Imaginative and stylistically simple, Rhode has taken a childhood game involving the interaction between a live actor and a chalk wall drawing to create his most memorable work to date (and tomorrow is the last day for the show!).


Robin Rhode, Soap and Water, 2007. Soap, steel, bronze, and water. Bicycle: 75 x 45 x 12 inches (188 x 114 x 30 cm). Bucket: 12 x 13 x 12 inches (30 x 33 x 30 cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York.

LACMA curator Leslie Jones says: “Robin Rhode is an artist with a unique vision who embraces play and whimsy as unlikely means to deal with serious contemporary topics.”

Although technically street art (many of Rhode’s pieces are chalk drawings executed outside on buildings or pavement), there is very little style or coolness evident in Rhode’s digital animation called Promenade. The video Promenade utilizes a low-tech flipbook-style animation of video stills depicting a man walking along a wall under an inscrutable mass of four-sided diamonds. Rhode’s diamonds are sinister and seem to be falling above him and caging him in an ever-tinier space about his body. The work concludes with the artist reducing the mass of diamonds to one, whimsically pinched by the artist. Accompanied (like any proper silent film) by a soundtrack by Arenor Meyer, the piece is remarkably haunting. The sound of Meyer’s exquisite music floats about Tony Smith’s Smoke sculpture — creating a poignant feeling that penetrates the entire second floor of the museum.


Robin Rhode, Promenade, 2008. Digital animation. Duration 00:05:00. Image courtesy of the artist, Perry Rubenstein Gallry New York and Tucci Russo Studio per l’Arte Contemporanea, Torre Pellice.

Rhode was allotted a particular corner of the LACMA; the contemporary art project space is a particularly resplendent section of the Ahmanson Building, where the light streaming in from glass doors along the courtyard creates a dazzling halo behind visitors. Rhode cleverly utilized sound and juxtaposition to fashion a dramatically aesthetic space of his own to compete with the building’s splendor. The work Soap and Water appears haphazardly thrown next to the stairs, and in fact is made of a casual material, soap. The water of course could at any moment spell disappearance for the sculpture creating a palpable tension as subtext.  Placed next to a bucket of water, Rhode’s piece is a soap bicycle that relates conceptually to the temporal nature of the show (the wall drawings are made of chalk), and it grants a literalness to what could be read as a rather poignant reference to the rarity of bicycles in Rhode’s Johannesburg neighborhood. Rhode is presenting himself here as an anonymous, invisible force — bridging the two worlds between the child and the adult — while simultaneously creating a social commentary as a black artist on what it means to be “street” within the high culture of the museum. Rhode seems to be daring us to throw the bucket at him and defy his self-created authority of images. However, like an enchanting Charlie Chaplin, the more Rhode asks me to violate his authority, the more I find myself hypnotized by the light, the music and (of course) the images[.]

This post was contributed by Mary Anna Pomonis

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Jet Set Saturdays: Robin Rhode at LACMA