Rodney Graham @303

JTF (just the facts): A total of 4 large scale color works, mounted in painted aluminum light boxes, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. Each of the works is one or more chromogenic transparencies (single image, diptych, or triptych), made in 2012 and 2013. Individual panel sizes range from 93×60 to 120×72, and the works are available in editions of 4+1AP or 5+1AP. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The characters in Rodney Graham’s most recent self-portraits have a going-through-the-motions world weariness that softens the wry comedy of his carefully staged scenes. While Graham’s works have always had an underlying edge of ridiculousness, these new single frame stories capture their subjects at moments when their years seem to be catching up with them, when tedium, ennui, and what-might-have-been are weighing more heavily.

Graham’s interest in the reinterpretation of images from art history continues here, with two works that reference famous paintings. Echoing Eakins’ The Champion Single Sculls, Graham replaces the wiry oarsman in the painting with his own bearded frame in a preciously fancy wooden canoe, the active boaters and arched viaduct in the painting replaced by a rusty trestle bridge and an industrial park in the distance. Graham’s scene finds a much different mood, a futile, trying-too-hard effort to capture lost glory. His Cactus Fan is a similar recasting, taking Spitzweg’s original The Cactus Enthusiast and placing it in a science lab context, replacing the bowing windowsill examination of specimens with an aging professor gloomily staring at a jolly gift basket arrangement of a cactus and some attached balloons. In Graham’s scene, the cactus almost seems to be mocking the scientist, an almost incomprehensible third place prize for not-quite success.

The other two works on display follow this same pattern of past-their-prime protagonists. While hanging drywall might normally be a young man’s task, Graham poses himself up on metal stilts, taking a smoke break while the tape and spackle dry behind him, the seen-it-all boredom palpable in his stance. And Graham’s too old punk, his hair gelled into a mohawk and sporting a studded leather jacket, uses a graffiti-covered payphone, a left behind throwback in a world that has moved on.

Graham’s humor is full of self-deprecating realism, a quiet acknowledgement of the small absurdities of these aging characters. These newest pictures are stronger than the last batch, their emotional context much more nuanced and less overtly ironic. Graham’s teasing and spoofery is still there, but its arrows hit closer to home. In these works, his gibes mix with a deeper sense of plausibly authentic emotion, making the vignettes more rounded than just quick caricatures.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $250000 and $650000, based on size. Graham’s photographs are only intermittently available in the secondary markets, with recent prices ranging from roughly $5000 to $185000; with so few lots to chart, these prices may not be entirely representative of the market for his work.

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