Lehmann Maupin is pleased to present The Geometry of Colour, an exhibition of new work by South Africa-born, Berlin-based artist Robin Rhode. This recent series culminates Rhode’s well-known work engaging the public through cooperative visual and performance art, documented through c-print photographs, at a wall in Johannesburg where he and his team have worked since 2011. In The Geometry of Colour, Rhode sets forth to make a case for the role of art in developing the skepticism and spirituality he views as necessary to challenge a surge of global divisiveness. The gallery will host an opening reception for the artist on Thursday, January 18, from 6 to 8 PM at 536 West 22nd Street.
Rhode has established his unique practice with a multifold approach, working across media, including drawing, performance, photography, video, and music. As a young artist inspired by the rebellion and possibility of graffiti, he was first drawn to working in public, unsanctioned spaces. Since then, his practice has evolved to become more closely aligned with and influenced by the minimal wall drawings of Sol Lewitt, and the 1970s performance work of artists such as Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman, as well as earlier art historical references such as Eadweard Muybridge’s stop-motion photography.
In The Geometry of Colour, Rhode utilizes geometric articulation of space, together with color theory—another optical science—to visualize the complexities of human nature and the political and economic systems established in its image. Under the Sun (2017) was inspired by the artist’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories last year while he was preparing for his current exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Struck by the similarity of today’s treatment of Palestinians to the divisive history of South Africa, Rhode was inspired to produce images of the sun’s rays as metaphor for both the political and atmospheric climates that the regions share. In a nod to religious architecture and spiritual associations with the sun, Rhode treats the squares of color representing gradients of sunlight as stained glass or a mosaic across 36 photographs. A doppelgänger of the artist alternates between basking in and shielding himself from the light depicted in the shifting spectrum. Rhode’s sun rays are an additional contribution to the long representational history of the sun, both as a benevolent father figure, and a symbol of victory and might, found throughout monotheistic religions. The rays also revisit the theme of light as a sociopolitical issue—the expansion of the electrical grid to serve black townships was an early achievement of the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela—that he has addressed in previous works.
Coming of age among the first generation of post-apartheid South Africans, Rhode has long made it his mission to engage with the realities of poverty, crime, and violence that plague many developing and postcolonial societies. However, Rhode approaches this grim subject matter with consummate whimsy and play, capturing the sentiments of spontaneity and freedom that accompanied the legal and civic opening of South Africa. He is dedicated to producing works within Johannesburg—specifically returning to the same wall within a gang-controlled territory at risk to himself and his team—to introduce material that is nuanced, politically aware, and relevant to art history. This underscores his commitment to return the resources and recognition he has received abroad to the community and local artists he identifies with and works alongside. Rhode emphasizes the reciprocal and collaborative nature of his work, saying, “The reactions and responses of the people on the street, the conditions pervading that particular process—that's part of the narrative."