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Top-News  |   2. November 2018

Central Questions of Philosophy

GR180004-1 Rodney Graham Vacuuming the Gallery 1949, 2018 Four painted aluminum lightboxes with transmounted chromogenic transparencies 303.8 x 181.9 x 17.8 cm (each panel) 119 1/2 x 71 1/2 x 7 in (each panel)© Rodney Graham Courtesy Lisson Gallery

GRAR180003-1 Rodney Graham Tattooed Man on Balcony, 2018 Painted aluminum lightbox with transmounted chromogenic transparency 278.6 x 164.2 x 17.8 cm (each panel) 109 5/8 x 64 5/8 x 7 in (each panel) 278.6 x 333.4 x 17.8 cm (installed) 109 5/8 x 131 1/4 x 7 in (installed) © Rodney Graham Courtesy Lisson Gallery

GRAR140016 Rodney Graham Black Tapestry, 2014 25 copies of the iconic Carole King album from 1971 painted over in coloured ink Record sleeves: 31.1 x 31.1 cm (each) Record sleeves: 12 1/8 x 12 1/8 in (each) Framed: 69.9 x 54.6 cm (each) Framed: 27 1/2 x 21 1/2 in (each) © Rodney Graham Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Central Questions of Philosophy 

Rodney Graham’s exhibition at Lisson Gallery London presents his first new body of lightboxes following the largest presentation of his work in this format last year at Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden, Germany and Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, Netherlands. Since creating his first lightbox in 2007, Graham has evolved these works into a larger, more complex series that encompasses various aspects of his artistic practice, such as photography, sculpture and painting. Staged down to the finest of details – from the decoration and soft furnishings to the positioning of the central figure – the works are essentially stage sets for an accumulation of multi-layered fictions, with Graham consistently playing the starring role. Weaving together various subjects, and sprinkled with anecdotal art historical and pop culture references, the works not only comment on the mechanics of image and image-making through Graham’s intricate process but are also employed as a vehicle to examine the epistemology of perception.  


Graham’s exhibition at Lisson Gallery features his largest lightbox to date, a four-panel piece featuring a 1940s gallery set loosely based on a photograph of Samuel Kootz. One of the first New York art dealers to champion Abstract Expressionist art, Kootz is shown smugly smoking a pipe in his apartment-turned gallery during an exhibition of work by Pablo Picasso in 1949. Graham takes on the role of Kootz in his new lightbox, hoovering the carpeted floors in preparation for an exhibition opening. In the background, an art collector admires a set of abstract paintings, created by Graham and based on a drawing by Alexander Rodchenko (Abstract Composition, 1941). Here we see Graham’s characteristic and dizzying layering effect: he is an artist, acting as a gallerist, in a gallery set that he has created, with artworks he has created inspired by another artist, as an artwork.  


While Graham has previously questioned the roles expected of an artist, in works like The Gifted Amateur, Nov. 10th, 1962 (2007) or more recently Pipe Cleaner Artist, Amalfi, ‘61 (2013), Vacuuming the Gallery 1949 (2018) probes at the depictions and cultural tropes associated with art dealers, who are constantly vying for the attention of fatigued collectors, while pointing to the more mundane and tedious aspects of running an art gallery. This is not just work about art history but art about art in its natural habitat. The result is simple, economic and charmingly effective. It creates an immersive experience of an art gallery of another time, showing traces of history that resonate with art galleries today. A number of new paintings in a vaguely abstract style, like those featured in Vacuuming the Gallery 1949, are also on view upstairs at 67 Lisson Street, bringing with it a satisfying circularity: the paintings Graham created for his gallery lightbox set are now brought to life in an actual art gallery. Realised in oil paint and sand on gessoed canvas, the paintings are an amalgamation of Rodchenko’s original Abstract Composition, with portions reassembled by Graham in Photoshop, then re-realised as a painting and cut up again, ad infinitum.  


In Graham’s next mise-en-scene, he poses as an intellectual figure for a formal photographic portrait, seated in a stately armchair and surrounded by books on philosophy. The diptych is a recreation of two Pelican paperback covers associated with the British philosopher A.J. Ayer’s The Central Questions of Philosophy, an introduction to some of the most frequently discussed areas of philosophy. One panel shows Graham posing as Ayer as a solitary figure, and the other shows Graham as Ayer with his dog. The work references Ayer’s philosophical underpinnings, notably his emphasis on logical empiricism and the verification principle, a theory of knowledge that asserts only statements verifiable through empirical observation are cognitively meaningful. Graham’s lightbox, eponymously titled Central Questions of Philosophy, makes two propositions: ‘a philosopher sits in a chair’ and ‘a philosopher and a dog sits in a chair’. The work probes the different facets of our claims to knowledge, particularly perceptual knowledge, that relies on inductive inference for its credence. It is this induction, subtle hints and inferences that characterise Graham’s work, along with its self-reflexive nature. 

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