Robin Rhode: Animating The Everyday

Pieces by the South African artist make their US debut at the Neuberger Museum.

The Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College has named artist Robin Rhode recipient of the 2014 Roy R. Neuberger Exhibition Prize, which grants an up-and-coming artist a catalogue and exhibition at the museum.

Robin Rhode: Animating the Everyday, on display until August 10, is a 10-year survey of the artist’s digital videos, compiled from linked photographs of people’s interactions with everyday objects (bicycles, chairs, a seesaw) drawn on both the streets of his native South Africa and current home Berlin.

Rhode’s work employs a “hybrid aesthetic, borrowing from high and low sources to create a lively, interesting mix,” he said during the exhibit’s press preview.

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According to Helaine Posner, senior curator of contemporary art at the Neuberger, and Louise Yelin, professor of literature at Purchase College, Rhode “articulates drawing and movement; juxtaposes sound and image; recycles everyday objects.”

Posner noted that the photography sequences are defined by their athleticism, wit, and playful quality. Though the subjects of Rhode’s animations range from schoolchildren playing on a two-dimensional playground to a squash player hitting snowballs against a sculpture, each video, accompanied by a haunting lo-fi soundtrack composed by the artist himself, retains a frenetic energy.

“I embrace chaos. I don’t create a work only with the idea that it has to be lighthearted; there’s something dark underneath,” Rhode said. He noted that this duality is an outgrowth of his South African heritage and its post-apartheid national identity.

“The South African mentality has to do with freedom and the possibility of imagining or reinventing another world quite rapidly,” Rhode said. “We drew the bicycle because we couldn’t afford to own bikes.”

Born in Cape Town and raised in Johannesburg, Rhode studied fine art at the Technikon Witwatersrand in 1998, followed by the South African School of Film, Television, and Dramatic Art. His work has been displayed on five continents; he has had solo exhibitions at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Perry Rubenstein Gallery in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Shiseido Gallery in Tokyo, among others. Institutions that have featured Rhode’s work include the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

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Robin Rhode: Animating the Everyday contains two rooms. One, titled Variants, contains a collection of five digital videos that play off one another all around the room, creating a panorama. The sequences each center on the concept of the chair, among them Military Chair and Arm Chair. The most striking, however, is Piano Chair, in which a tuxedoed man “murders” the grand piano stenciled onto the wall—first with rocks and an axe, then with fire, and eventually a noose—in a disturbingly elegant manner. The piece, shrouded in violence yet full of charm, is Rhode’s homage to the musician, and a nod to the destruction of art seen during apartheid and throughout history. Though it appeared at the White Cube Hoxton Square in London, Variants makes its US debut at the Neuberger.

Watch Rhode’s art in progress, and his process, below.

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