Modern Painters

Steve Roden
Suzanne Vielmetter // September 14 – October 19
By Doug Harvey

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Steve Roden
First view, 2013
Oil on linen
14 x 11 in



Even in his native L.A., it’s taken almost 20 years for the art world to grasp the extent of roden’s genre-blurring oeuvre. that’s partly because he authored his early international sound-art activities under the moniker in/between/noise. But as synesthesia kicked into high gear, Roden’s diverse activities—painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, installation, film, writing, curating, and sound—began to resemble facets of a crystalline matrix.

With simultaneous, nearly identical solo shows at Vielmetter and CRG gallery in new york—both entitled “ragpicker”—Roden provides a bicoastal crash course into his fractured, hermetic domain. rooted in an almost cargo-cult appropriation of Conceptualist strategies and an encyclopedic under- standing of modernism and its discontents, Roden’s abstract geometric paintings and scorelike drawings seem like the work of a previously undiscovered Bauhaus crackpot from a parallel universe in which new york had never stolen the idea of modern art.

Roden’s work is superficially exquisite, but it’s always the product of deeply droll, intuitive formalist decision making initiated by analyzing historical touchstones. in this case, Roden’s recent residency at the Walter Benjamin archive in Berlin provided fuel for several years of invention.

Part of the appeal of Roden’s art resides in how the indecipherability of carefully encrypted modernist tropes results in a mysteriously coherent end product. with the Benjamin materials, Roden repurposes the philosopher’s private pictographic shorthand into drawings that resemble statistical charts, diagrams of chemical reactions, or experimental musical scores— which some, in fact, are.

But the artist’s new oil paintings offer the most intrigue to those familiar with his work. embracing a chance shift in materials from linen to canvas led Roden to a series of dazzling variations on his rickety grids. transparent, purplish washes crack open the spatial complexities that had previously jostled opaquely at the picture plane’s surface. those elements now begin to resemble paradoxical J.G. Ballard’s visions of Brasília reclaimed by the jungle—shimmering with an unearthly beauty, but somehow not requiring the presence of human beings for validation: posthumanism at its most sumptuous.

—Doug Harvey