Jason Rhoades: Four Roads exhibition coming to the BALTIC

Chief Curator Laurence Sillars reflects on the first major survey exhibition of the late artist's work

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Jason Rhoades: Four Roads exhibition coming to the Baltic Mill

Dead prematurely at the age of 41 through heart failure, Californian artist Jason Rhoades combined elements of performance and conventional art in his work. Already recognised and much appreciated by the critical establishment throughout his life, the work he left behind fortunately bears revisiting even though it now lacks his physical presence. Four Roads, the first major survey exhibition of his work anywhere in the world, is a collaboration between the BALTIC, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Kunsthalle in Bremen.

‘He was an extraordinary and unusual figure,’ says Laurence Sillars, Chief Curator at the BALTIC, ‘and he’s now recognised as a real powerhouse of ideas in American sculpture of the 1990s. His work is typified by enormous, sprawling installations, which feel like an exhibition in their own right; there’s something thoroughly engaging and bewildering about them. It’s hard to see any way in until you crack the coding in his work, which dissects ideas of what it is to be American – he works with notions of the American hero, of American commerce, and of what it is to be an American artist.’

The exhibition is anchored around four major installations Rhoades made between 1991 and his death, among many other examples of his work. ‘The key one for me is 1998’s The Creation Myth,’ says Sillars. ‘It’s hard to call it a sculpture because it’s so huge and so immersive. It’s a room filled with a working model of the artist’s brain comprising about 5000 component parts, from a television set to an old Nintendo game console, dozens of laminated tables, magazines, office furniture, a train set … It’s intimidating at first, really chaotic and senseless, but it unravels a complicated system of how he perceived the levels of his brain, from memory to the subconscious.’

The other major works shown will be 1993’s Garage Renovation New York (Cherry Makita), 2000’s Sutter’s Mill and 2003–4’s Iwan’s Rack, displaying a sensibility which was grounded in an art historical appreciation, for example of minimalists like Donald Judd, Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg. ‘Yet he also deals with the stuff of America through readymade objects he would pick up in cheap stores,’ says Sillars. ‘He had a symbiotic approach to art history and contemporary life.’ Alongside Judd and Duchamp, notes the press material for the exhibition, Ayrton Senna, the movie Car Wash and the archetypal American hero Kevin Costner also play their part in this unique and committed work.

Fri 6 Mar–Sun 31 May, BALTIC, Gateshead..

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