Robin Rhode (b. Cape Town, 1976) is a South African artist based in Berlin, Germany. In 1998, he obtained a diploma in Fine Art from Technikon Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, followed by a postgraduate program at the South African School of Film, Television and Dramatic Art in Johannesburg.
Working predominantly with everyday material like charcoal, chalk and paint, Rhode started out creating performances that are based on his own drawings of objects that he interacts with. He expanded and refined this practice into creating photography sequences and digital animations. These works are characterized by an interdisciplinary approach that brings aspects of performance, happening, drawing, film and photography together. Rhode often returns to his native South Africa, creating work in the streets of Johannesburg and continuously registering the traces of poverty and social inequality. An outstanding characteristic of his works is his addressing of social concerns in a playful and productive manner, incorporating these issues into his practice without simplifying or judging them.
Reminiscent of practices of street culture, Rhode usually works in public spaces, using walls, public basketball courts or just the street as his “canvas”. His preferred materials are easily accessible ones like charcoal and paint. As a result, his works stand out through their simplicity and their formal clarity, emphasizing the idea over lavishness of production. Rhode transforms simple shapes into elements of narratives, interacting with only imagined presences. This narrative practice goes back to an initiation ritual at South African high schools – that Rhode himself experienced - where new students are forced to draw and interact with their drawing. Rhode’s reference to this event takes this social gesture further into a playful mode of *addressing cultural phenomena. Rhode’s stories often include a moment of conflict and possible failure. The black and white 26-panel photographic work Juggla for instance depicts a circus-like clown. Prodding at this form of popular entertainment, the faceless character is at the mercy of the wealthy, juggling or holding nothing. With Juggla, Rhode references Minstrel Carnivals from the Caribbean and South Africa where troupes, made up of members from a particular neighborhood of the city, are assembled and each is expected to parade and perform for its local community in exchange for food and drink. Rhode also pays homage to the fervent utopian ideals of the Bauhaus, implicating Oscar Schlemmer’s seminal Triadic Ballet from the twenties, a performance experiment created in the Bauhaus studios in the absence of a theatre space, balancing “emotional impulses” with an agenda of political agitation. His drawings of objects like a bicycle, a motorbike, a car, or of abstract shapes and patterns are employed as physical elements in a story, often alluding to the act of creation itself as in Promenade (2008).
Rhode created a display at New York’s Grand Central Station, which was commissioned by BMW for their BMW Art Car project. In it, he used a BMW Z4 convertible to create a sprawling work on floor panels by indicating a winding course in a Los Angeles studio which he had a stunt driver follow in the convertible car with its tired coated with pigment.
Rhode’s earlier practice was dominated by performances which took place first on the streets, later in museums and galleries. One of the most popular performances is Car Theft (2003, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN) where Rhode appears as a hooded character in street clothes who first draws a car on the wall and then tries to break in, eventually throwing a stone at the drawn object; highlighting his signature method of attempting to playfully transform flat renderings of everyday objects into illusory three-dimensional ones through his physical interactions. Very much a provocateur and cultural subversive, he shares conceptual links with artists as varied as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hammons and the Russian constructivists. Yet, these "high art" associations do not negate his equally strong ties to popular cultural phenomena such as rappers Wu-Tang Clan, the Nike brand, graffiti art, and music-video director Hype Williams. Rhode is realizing his own personal vision of the world that surrounds him, using art as a means to approach and reflect it in an interdisciplinary practice that goes beyond established borders of genres and traditional ways to engage with art. In Skipping Rope (2005, Musée ďArt Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC) Rhode interacted with the audience, engaging them into playing with an imaginary rope. The spectators became participants, taking part in Rhode’s imagination that continuously seeks to reach beyond the boundaries of traditional artist-spectator roles.
Trajectory of exhibitions
Rhode had his first solo exhibition at Perry Rubenstein Gallery in New York in 2004. In 2005, he was featured in the 51st Venice Biennale and New Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2007 he had a large-scale exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, curated by Stephanie Rosenthal accompanied by his first monograph Walk Off, published by Hatje Cantz. He had a second gallery exhibition in 2007 with the Perry Rubenstein Gallery (a large scale exhibition at all three gallery spaces). In September 2008 he had a solo show at both the Hayward Gallery and White Cube Gallery, London and participated in Prospect.1 New Orleans, the New Orleans Biennale curated by Dan Cameron. In 2009, Robin Rhode collaborated with the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes to build the stage design and visual accompaniment for Andsnes’ contemporary exploration of Modest Mussorgsky’s piano suite of “Pictures at an Exhibition” which premiered at Lincoln Center, New York City, in November 2009.
Works in public collections
Rhode’s work is included in the collections of numerous international institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC; the Honart Museum Collection, Tehran; the Goetz Collection, Munich, Germany; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; and the Collection Frac Champagne-Ardenne, Reims.
Selected solo exhibitions and performances
- Robin Rhode, LACMA, Los Angeles, CA (2010, Solo Exhibition)
- Robin Rhode, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York, NY (2009, Solo Exhibition)
- Robin Rhode, The Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2009, Solo Exhibition)
- Through the Gate, White Cube Gallery, London, UK (2008, Solo Exhibition)
- Who Saw Who, Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2008, Solo Exhibition)
- Walk Off, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2007, Solo Exhibition)
- Robin Rhode, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York, NY (2007, Solo Exhibition)
- Robin Rhode, Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2006, Solo Exhibition)
- The Storyteller, FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, France (2006, Solo Exhibition)
- The Storyteller, carlier | gebauer, Berlin, Germany (2006, Solo Exhibition)
- Empieza el Juego, Zaragoza, Madrid, Spain (2006, Solo Exhibition)
- Street Smart, Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL (2005, Solo Exhibition)
- Robin Rhode, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York, NY (2004, Solo Exhibition)
- The Score, Artists Space, New York, NY (2004, Performance)
- Fresh, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2000, Performance)
- Living in Public, Market Theatre Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa (2000, Performance)
- Winner, Illy Prize, Art Brussels, Brussels, Belgium (2007)
- Winner, W South Beach Commission, Art Positions at Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami, FL
- ars viva 05/06 Identität/Identity, Award, Berlin, Germany (2005)
- Artist-in-Residence, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2003)
- Artist-in-Residence, The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Boston, MA (2003)
- Artist-in-Residence, Karl Hofer Gesellschaft (HDK) Berlin, Germany (2001)
- Artist-in-Residence, Gasworks Gallery, London, UK (2001)
- Artist-in-Residence, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2000)
- Website of Robin Rhode's gallery, White Cube  London
- Website of Robin Rhode's gallery, Perry Rubenstein Gallery 
- Website of Rhode's solo exhibition Who Saw Who at Hayward Gallery
- Modern Painters, Robin Rhode and William Kentridge in Conversation, June 2008
- Benjamin Genocchio, "Robin Rhode," The New York Times, June 8, 2007
- "Something There Is That Loves a Wall," Profile by Carol Kino, The New York Times, May 13, 2007
- Walk Off Edited by Stephanie Rosenthal, Exhibition catalogue, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit 2007
- Roberta Smith, "Art in Review; Robin Rhode," The New York Times, October 29, 2004
- Esther Addley, "Chalk Talk: the Wall and Floor Drawer Creating a stir on the Art Scene," The Guardian, 20 September 2008
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General information and images
- Who Saw Who, Robin Rhode's 2008 solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London. (September - December 2008).
- Walk Off at Haus der Kunst, Munich (September 16, 2007 - January 6, 2008).
- Street Level at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Durham, NC. (March 29 - July 29, 2007).
- The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl
- Robin Rhode. Walk Off, edited by Stephanie Rosenthal, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz 2007.
- Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova, and Robin Rhode. Edited by Trevor Schoonmaker. Exh. cat. Durham: Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2007.
- Yee, Linda, ed. Street Art, Street Life. Exh cat. New York: Aperture/Bronx Museum of the Arts, 2008.
- Who Saw Who: Robin Rhode, Michele Robecchi, Stephanie Rosenthal and James Sey. Exh. cat. London: Hayward Gallery, 2009.
- InitiArt Magazine's in-depth interview with Robin Rhode on his art and life in Berlin, 2010.