With his research-based and socially engaged practice, Robin Rhode (b. 1976, Cape Town, South Africa; lives and works in Berlin) engages the urban landscape to create complex, symbolically rich narratives that disrupt and transform their environments.
The artist is best known for his multi-panel works that deftly combine photography, performance, wall painting, and drawing. Negotiating the urban landscape, these photographs often depict silhouetted figures interacting with carefully composed wall paintings that the artist paints in public spaces, most often in the city of Johannesburg. In each succession of photographs, the choreographed movements of the individual or group appear to alter the two-dimensional renderings, compressing space and time and morphing the urban landscape into a fictional storyboard. Using the medium of photography to capture his painted and performative actions, Rhode disrupts the fixity of the wall, rendering it a mobile substrate that can be transported into a variety of contexts.
Rhode considers his wall-based works to be visual interventions in their cultural, political, and ecological environments, and he aims to transform both landscapes and communities. The artist works collaboratively with a team of over a dozen community members, most from formerly segregated neighborhoods in post-apartheid Johannesburg. Working in urban space and engaging his local communities, Rhode situates his practice within and for the public sphere, and he probes the myriad ways that politics manifests itself in and as everyday life.
The wall is at the center of Rhode’s practice, and he considers its many meanings and functions: as a divider within urban space, as a surface and substrate in art historical traditions ranging from cave painting to street art, as a threshold between art and life in notion of the “fourth wall,” and as a psychoanalytic screen. In Rhode’s works, these varied associations converge to mutually complicate each other, creating a hybrid narrative mode that reflects the nuances of urban, post-apartheid diasporic experience.
Rhode studied at the University of Johannesburg as well as at the Association of Film and Dramatic Arts (AFDA), from 1996 to 2001. Select solo exhibitions of his work have been organized by the Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, the Netherlands (2021); Kunsthalle Krems, Krems an der Donau, Austria (2020); Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany (2019); Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich, Switzerland (2018); Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel (2017); Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2016); The Drawing Center, New York, NY (2015); Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY (2014); 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 Experiencing the Global Contemporary Metropolis, Moody Center for the Arts, Houston, TX (2022); Allied with Power: African and African Diaspora Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL (2020); Prix Pictet 2019: Hope, Victoria and Albert Museum Porter Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2019); NOW, National Galleries, Edinburgh, Scotland (2018); Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France (2017); Shifting Views: People and Politics in Contemporary African Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, MD (2016); Making Africa. A Continent of Contemporary Design, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (2015); Drawing Now, The Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria (2015); and Staging Action: Performance in Photography Since 1960, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2011). Rhode has participated in multiple biennials and triennials, including the Busan Biennale (2017); the 56th Venice Biennale (2015); PERFORMA 15 (2015); the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012); Yokohama Triennial (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 Institution, Washington D.C.; George Economou Collection, Athens, Greece; Goetz Collection, Munich, Germany; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf, Germany; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI; MTV Networks, New York, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo, Norway; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC; Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL; The Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL; The 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 also 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.