“Rag-picker,” Steve Roden’s forthcoming solo exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects presents new work born out of the artist’s research in the Walter Benjamin archive at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin during a five-week residency in 2011. The title of the exhibition is inspired by one of Benjamin’s favorites from Baudelaire’s urban types, the “rag-picker,” who scuttles through the city, searching for useful things amongst the detritus. Adopting a similar method while engaged with Benjamin’s notebooks, Roden repurposed various notations and glyphs that are generally considered inconsequential to create scores that influence his process of making paintings, drawings, sculpture and sound works. These foraged scribbles and the scores that Roden developed were rich enough to generate multiple bodies of work.
There is a group of small paintings inspired by one of the few remaining postcards in Benjamin’s childhood collection that depicts the Duomo, a 12th century cathedral in Siena famous for it’s octagonal, black and white striped, Gothic pulpit designed by Nicola Pisano. There are large paintings whose imagery is composed through an accumulation of the marks Benjamin used to cross out his mistakes. In Roden’s paintings these marks become gestures of obfuscation that reconfigure ‘the graphic act’ of crossing out mistakes in a notebook to the language of painting. There are small sculptures composed of cardboard, plaster-wrap, and mirrors that approach questions regarding the location of Benjamin’s memorial stone, which is sited neither on the actual location of his death nor the location of his remains. There are 70”-tall works on paper which connect Le Corbusier’s description of the design of Chandigarh with Benjamin’s musings on the flâneur, offering the artist’s body as a site for wandering. Each drawing incorporates tracings of the artist’s head, heart, lungs, arms, and torso.
At the heart of Roden’s “rag-picking” is an attempt to repurpose, re-read (or miss-read), and reconfigure various aspects of Benjamin’s notebooks. Roden’s approach to research and indexing is more idiosyncratic than logical – more intuitive than academic, a quest for value in things where there appears to be none.
In September 2013, Steve Roden will also have work in “Lines and Spaces,” an exhibition curated by John Yau at the Joseloff Gallery at the Hartford Art School in Hartford, CT. During the summer of 2013 Roden has been creating a series of sountracks for the Richter film "Ghosts Before Breakfast" (the original soundtrack was destroyed by the Nazis). His work was also recently featured in the exhibition “Silence” at the Menil Collection and the Berkeley Art Museum. In 2012 Roden had a solo exhibition at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), Los Angeles, CA. A mid-career survey of Roden’s work, curated by Howard Fox, was presented at the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA in 2010. Other solo exhibitions include the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX; the Henry Art Museum, Seattle, WA; the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), Athens, Greece; the Tang Museum at Skidmore College; and the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, CA. Roden’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Fellows of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Mercosur Biennial in Porto Allegre, Brazil; the Serpentine Gallery, London, UK; the Drawing Room, London, UK; the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA; the Sculpture Center, New York, NY; the Centre George Pompidou Museum, Paris; and the UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.