More: First Steps on the Rhoades Road

Editor’s Note: As Jason Rhoades, Four Roads closes, we take a look back at the show’s beginnings. This post was written in 2010 but not published until now.*

The artist Jason Rhoades, who died in 2006 at the age of forty-one, made really big busy stuff— installations mostly—with big busy names like and More Moor Morals Morass, Tijuanatanjierchandelier, and Great See Battles of Wihelm Schürmann. ICA curator Ingrid Schaffner is exploring the possibility of organizing an exhibition of Rhoades’s work that would be similarly big and busy. We’ve been thinking busily about this big idea for a year already, and we’re just getting started.

The first thing that happened was that Ingrid bought a notebook.

Okay, that’s not true. The first thing that happened was that we wrote a grant to the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative to fund the planning of the exhibition, and (thankfully!) they accepted it. This means ICA can afford to fly Ingrid to Los Angeles and Zurich and various other places where Rhoades lived and worked, so that she can burrow into archives and talk to the people who knew him and see the stuff he made in the places it is. Immersive, sometimes flashing, obsessively detailed and extremely large, Rhoades’s art is hardly the kind you can get much of a sense of in a photograph. Luckily a lot of Rhoades material is in the archive of David Zwirner, who was Rhoades’s gallerist, in New York City, and Bolt Bus tickets are still quite cheap.

So, the second thing that happened was that Ingrid went to New York City, walked into her favorite office supply store, and bought a notebook. She showed it to me when she got back from a week at Zwirner: plain, unlined, with pages and pages of notes, diagrams, lists, questions, ideas in neat black ink. “It’s bigger than my notebooks generally are,” Ingrid said, which seemed appropriate. When I commented on how full it already was, she said, “I take a lot of notes. Note-taking is a way of embodying information.” As she spoke, I was taking notes on what she said in my own notebook. It felt like a small Rhoadesian moment, the thing folded back on itself: More Moor Morals and Morass.

I forgot to tell you the name of the office supply store. Jason’s Office Products, on West 31st Street. Really.

At our staff meeting that week, Ingrid gave an unRhoadesianly brief presentation that she called “Five Things I Know About Jason Rhoades So Far.” Thing number three was that, appropriately for a California artist, Rhoades thought of the car as a useful mental space existing between home and work, house and studio. I forgot to ask Ingrid, who doesn’t drive, how she felt about this. It made me think about a lecture I once attended on the magic of liminal spaces: the beach, lying between the land and the sea; or the margins of a book where you might scribble a thought. (What to do, though, if you’re reading online?)

Rhoades apparently also thought of parking the car as akin to placing a sculpture. This draws nicely on his interest in randomness. Of course, one of his other interests is obsessive order.

Thing number four that Ingrid learned was that Rhoades was part of two early exhibitions, This is the Show and the Show is Many Things (Museum van Hedendaagse, Ghent, 1994) and Traffic (CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, 1996) that framed relational aesthetics. Relational aesthetics is basically an idea articulated by Nicolas Bourriaud (who organized Traffic) to describe artistic practices that involve people coming together in shared activity, so that encounters between viewers are as much a part of the experience of a work of art as the encounter between a single viewer and a single artistic object. Apparently one of the things Rhoades and the other artists in This is the Show and the Show is Many Things thought about as they made the exhibition was the sense of buzzing life in the beehive of the museum as an exhibition is being mounted, as opposed to the relatively inert (if tasty) jar of honey you get after it opens. They wanted to recreate the beehive experience for the viewer in This is the Show and the Show is Many Things, and I think maybe they succeeded. The exhibition was described this way by Adrian Searle in Frieze magazine at the time:

This is the Show…is a fun palace, a rumpus room, a discount warehouse, a museum without walls, a wasteland and a Wunder-Kabinett of the marvellous and the inconsequential. Many of the works are being made, unmade, adapted and changed by the participants while the show is running. Nothing is labelled and the galleries are a confusing mixture of work areas, incomplete installations, storage spaces, spontaneous liaisons and those petty acts of aesthetic terrorism which probably seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I can’t say for sure that a Rhoades exhibition at ICA would include petty acts of aesthetic terrorism—and I’m fairly sure everything would be labeled—but I strongly suspect you would experience spontaneous liaisons. But who knows? The investigation has just begun.

Thing number five Ingrid learned: “I have a lot of work to do.”

Better get more notebooks.

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