Robin Rhode & Nari Ward: Power Wall at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong
Robin Rhode & Nari Ward: Power Wall at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong
Fri 3 Apr 2020 – Sat 16 May 2020
Images courtesy of Lehmann Maupin.
PR: Based in New York, Ward is renowned for his ability to combine politics and historical references with personal identity, creating work that is unifying and humanistic at a time of extreme division worldwide. Rhode, who is now based in Berlin, came of age in the newly post-apartheid South Africa and was exposed to novel forms of creative expression motivated by the spirit of the individual rather than dictated by a political or social agenda. Together, Rhode and Ward offer a unique perspective of our complex socio-political world through their politically subversive work.
Following his critically-lauded retrospective We the People that premiered at the New Museum, Ward has established himself as an opposing voice amidst current dominant narratives. Distancing himself from superficial interpretation and overt political commentary, Ward instead provides a perspective on the dichotomy of power and its aesthetic and cultural manifestations. Early in his career Ward built a reputation for repurposing found objects and placing them in juxtapositions that highlight their functional purposes, cultural associations, and metaphorical potential. Often choosing media sourced from his neighborhood, his proximity and intimacy to these materials allowed Ward to subtly incorporate his own lived experience into the work. This methodology has persisted throughout his career, evolving as he has pushed the boundaries of his dominant medium of sculpture and assemblage into wall-mounted works that engage with the history of art as well as consumer culture and social justice issues.
Featured in this exhibition is a recent work by Ward titled Power Wall – Power People (2019), from his signature shoelace series where he renders words and phrases out of shoelaces inserted into a wall. For the artist, who ascribes a certain amount of animism to his materials, the shoelaces make general reference to an anonymous mass of people through their ubiquitous universal use. The audience’s familiarity with this material is tantamount, as Ward prioritizes the experience of the viewer and their ability to find a personal entry point over grand, overarching ideology and statement. This installation presents a clenched fist, the universal symbol of solidarity. Ward here provides an alternate consideration of power, as well as its aesthetic and cultural manifestations. Rendering the symbol with shoelaces not only disturbs and destabilizes the traditional iconography but also hints more broadly at the human tendency to strive for power and authority. Ward leaves the viewer to reconsider the importance and power of collective solidarity and action in the face of contemporary adversity.
Rhode is known for his photographic series that merge photography, performance, drawing, and sculpture to create visual narratives that are brought to life using quotidian materials such as soap, charcoal, chalk, and paint. Rhode often uses walls that stand in socially disadvantaged districts, where he documents a sole protagonist interacting with murals that the artist paints onto the wall’s surface. Rhode has created works on public walls in Johannesburg and Berlin, and more recently in the city of Jericho. In a succession of photographs, the movements of the actor appear to alter the two-dimensional renderings, compressing space and time and transforming the urban landscape into a fictional storyboard. In contrast to Graffiti and Street Art, however, Rhode is not interested in what he leaves behind in the urban context, but rather in the process of creation. Step by step, he photographically documents the development of narratives on his stone canvas, which in turn bears marks of its own history.
Rhode’s photographic work is heavily influenced by the early methods of motion photography and motion pictures, which is particularly evident in the work S (2014). Throughout the performative and photographic narrative, the letter “S” is transcribed through the repetitive formation of the drawn paperclip as well as the physical action of the character in the frame. In this work, Rhode utilizes physical properties―torsion and elasticity―to create imaginative friction between the body, the sheets of paper the figure holds in his hands, and the letter “S” during the narrative progression. The letter “S” here is a reference to the infinity symbol, and symbols and forms of infinity in mathematics have become an inspiration for the artist.
Melding individual expressionism with broader socio-economic concerns, both Rhode and Ward explore a rich range of historical and contemporary references and showcase their ability to blend high and low art forms. While Rhode reduces complex, at times even socially critical or analytical content to a few visual signs or, as he puts it, simplifies chaos with the means of art, Ward uses shoelaces in an alternative context to examine issues related to race, poverty, and consumer culture. Both artists’ use of quotidian materials―shoelaces for Ward and soap, charcoal, chalk, or paint for Rhode―emphasize a sense of solidarity, community and collectivity, as well as an alternative method to drawing. They each utilize the wall (of the gallery or the street) as spaces to activate and the surface for which they make their marks. The viewer is drawn into their acute aesthetics, awakening a sense of consciousness through their performative activist practices.
About the artists
Nari Ward (b. 1963, St. Andrew, Jamaica; lives and works in New York) received a BA from City University of New York, Hunter College in 1989, and an MFA from City University of New York, Brooklyn College in 1992. Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX (2019); New Museum, New York, NY (2019); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA (2017); Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, NY (2017); The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA (2016); Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL (2015); and the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2015), among others. Select group exhibitions featuring his work include Objects Like Us, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2019); UPTOWN: nastywomen/badhombres, El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY (2017); Black: Color, Material, Concept, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2015); The Great Mother, the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Palazzo Reale, Milan, Italy (2015); The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, IL (2015); NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, New Museum, New York, NY (2013); Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Rotunda, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2010); the Whitney Biennial, New York, NY (2006); Landings, Documenta XI, Kassel, Germany (2002); Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Projects: How to Build and Maintain the Virgin Fertility of Our Soul, MoMA PS1, Long Island City; The Listening Sky, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the Whitney Biennial, New York, NY (1995); and Cardinal Points of the Arts, 45th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy.
Ward’s work is in numerous international public and private collections, including Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; the Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; GAM, Galleria Civica di arte, Torino, Italy; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Istanbul Modern, Istanbul, Turkey; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC; National Gallery of Victoria, Southbank, Australia; the New York Public Library, New York, NY; Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
Ward has received numerous honors and distinctions including the Fellowship Award, United States Artists, Chicago (2020); Vilcek Prize in Fine Arts, Vilcek Foundation, New York (2017); the Joyce Award, The Joyce Foundation, Chicago (2015), the Rome Prize, American Academy of Rome (2012), and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1998); the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (1996); and the National Endowment for the Arts (1994). Ward has also received commissions from the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
Robin Rhode (b. 1976, Cape Town, South Africa; lives and works in Berlin) studied at the University of Johannesburg as well as at the Association of Film and Dramatic Arts (AFDA), from 1996 to 2001. Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized by Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany (2019); Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich, Switzerland (2018); Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel (2017); Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, GA (2016); The Drawing Center, New York, NY (2015); National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (2013); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (2010); Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2009); Hayward Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2008); and Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2007). Select group exhibitions featuring his work include Prix Pictet 2019: Hope, Victoria and Albert Museum Porter Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2019); NOW: Jenny Saville, Sara Barker, Christine Borland, Robin Rhode, Markus Schinwald, Catherine Street, National Galleries, Edinburgh, Scotland (2018); Spots, Dots, Pips, Tiles: An Exhibition About Dominoes, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL (2017); Art / Afrique, le nouvel atelier, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France (2017); Synthesize: Art + Music, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, FL (2017); Shifting Views: People and Politics in Contemporary African Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, MD (2016-2017); Making Africa. A Continent of Contemporary Design, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany, traveled to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain (2015); DRAWING NOW, Albertina, Vienna, Austria (2015); Staging Action: Performance in Photography Since 1960, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2011); and New Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2005). Rhode has participated in multiple biennials/triennials, including the Busan Biennale (2017); the 56th Venice Biennale (2015); PERFORMA 15, Arnold Schönberg’s Erwartung – A Performance by Robin Rhode, New York (2015); the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012); Yokohama Triennial, Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan (2005); and the 51st Venice Biennale (2005).
Rhode’s work is included in numerous public collections, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Collection Martin Z. Margulies, Miami, FL; The Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (LACMA) Los Angeles, CA; Lauren and Benedikt Taschen Collection, Los Angeles, CA; Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH), Paris, France; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, Perez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL; The Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL; Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.
Rhode has received numerous awards, including the 2018 Zurich Art Prize, Zurich, Switzerland; the Young Artist Award 2011, A.T. Kearney, Germany; the 2007 Illy Prize, Art Brussels, Belgium, and ars viva 05/06 Identität/Identity Award, Berlin.
Robin Rhode & Nari Ward: Power Wall, Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2020. Photo by Owen Wong. Courtesy the artists and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul