Born in and based in Vancouver, Graham was a true polymath, steeped in art, music, film, literature, psychoanalysis and popular culture. Alongside Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas, Graham emerged from the University of British Columbia, Burnaby, Canada in the 1970s as a radical pioneer of lens-based media, albeit with the added ability to skewer and further the conceptual and minimal art practices prevalent in New York at the time. His works vary in materials, subjects and intention, but can always be said to be performative, whether that is in the noisy 35mm projector beaming moving images of a chandelier spinning out of control (‘Torqued Chandelier Release’, 2005, then realised as a physical work in Vancouver, 2019) or the artist recreating Albert Hoffman’s bicycle ride around Berlin’s Tiergarten after ingesting the first hit of LSD (‘Phonokinetoscope’, 2001).
Graham is perhaps best known for his acting, through large-format, back-lit cibachromes depicting himself variously as a photo-booth owner in the 1930s, a gallery owner in the ’40s, an abstract painter in the ’50s, an ageing rocker in the ’70s, a disgruntled sous-chef, a lighthouse keeper and a leaping hermit, among many other guises. Despite titling his last major touring show ‘That’s Not Me,’ there was always an element of playful self-portraiture in these lightboxes. Indeed, describing his interpretation of a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief’ in which Cary Grant’s cat burglar is accused of robberies that are not his but bear his signature, Graham remarked: ‘This role spoke uncannily to me of my own life’. The artist is, of course, hiding in plain sight throughout – camouflaged beneath a cavalcade of historical, comical or fictional characters and details, which amounts to a collective portrayal of the existential everyman. In truth, each reference and setting was meticulously researched and choreographed, often with a Hollywood-style set built at his studio for each cinematic scene.
As a musician, Graham voraciously performed and wrote his own songs and albums, often with his band UJ3RK5 with fellow artists Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall, or accompanied by his own sculpture, but his musical interests and knowledge also transcended his rock’n’roll roots.
In later years, Graham became an accomplished painter, despite protestations that he was again just playing a role: ‘It may be a burden to reinvent oneself again and again, but it makes things more interesting.’ Beginning with a few key fragmentary references from the modernist era, Graham would create paintings by dissecting other paintings, part of his career-long staging of a never-ending panoply of imagistic and collagistic possibilities.
Graham’s work has been the subject numerous major solo exhibitions internationally, among them a 2004 retrospective that toured the US and Canada, including, among other venues, MoCA Los Angeles, ICA Philadelphia, PA and Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada. Other institutional exhibitions include Serlachius Museum Gösta, Mänttä, Finland (2020); Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany (2017); Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, Netherlands (2017); BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK (2017); Le Constortium, Dijon, France (2016); Sammlung Goetz, Munich, Germany (2015); Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada (2014); Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada (2012); Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria (2011); Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain (2010); Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (2009); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, UK (2002); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany (2001); and Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria (1999).
His work is included in collections worldwide, such as Musée national d’art moderne – Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Tate, London, UK; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; MACBA, Barcelona, Spain; Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany.
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2022 "Vacuuming the Gallery", Voorlinden Museum & Gardens, The Netherlands
2021 "Phonokinetoscope”, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow
2017 “That’s Not Me”, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland
“That’s Not Me”, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, Netherlands
"Lightboxes", Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany
"That's Not Me", Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, New Castle, United Kingdom
2016 "You Should Be An Artist", Le Consortium, Dijon, France
2015 “Kitchen Magic Drawings”, Galerie Rudiger Schöttle, Munich, Germany
2014 “Artist in the Artist Bar (Prop Painting and Other Paintings)”, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
2013 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
2012 Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
2011 “Rollenbilder – Rollenspile”, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria
2010 “Through the Forest”, Museu dʼArt Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain;
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Basel
“Possible Abstraction”, Museu Picasso, Barcelona, Spain
2009 Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France
2008 "The Cinema Effect", The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC
2007 Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany (Kurt Schwitters Prize)
"Directions in Art, 1970 to Now", Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
"All About Laughter" Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
2005 "Rodney Graham: A Little Thought", Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
2004 “Rodney Graham: A Little Thought”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada;
the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
2002 Kunsthalle Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
“010101: Art In Technological Times”, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
1999 “Vexation Island”, Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL
SELECTED PUBLIC AND MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Tate London, London, UK
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
La Colleccion Jumex, Mexico, Mexico
Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montréal, Canada
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada