Feature

Exhibit of the week: Steve Roden: In Between, A 20-Year Survey

Long a presence in the electronic music scene, Roden has also branched out into installation art.

Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, Calif.Through Jan. 9, 2011

It’s not often that sleepy Pasadena, Calif., gets to celebrate an internationally acclaimed artist who’s also a favorite son, said Carl Kozlowski in Pasadena Weekly. The Armory Center for the Arts’ current exhibit of work from multimedia artist Steve Roden is his “first career retrospective anywhere.” Long a presence in the electronic music scene, Roden has also branched out into installation art. His most noteworthy visual artworks, however, are those in which he employs obscure methods in order to “interpret musical scores as paintings and drawings.” It’s impossible to leave this show unimpressed by Roden’s restless imagination, eclectic range, and “unique mix of talents.”

Roden tends to keep a low profile, said Holly Myers in the Los Angeles Times. “Highly respected by peers and critics, but conspicuously underrepresented in some of the glossier regions of the art world,” he’s spent the past two decades quietly developing his own peculiar creative methods. Roden never begins a work knowing what it will eventually look like; instead, he devises elaborate organizing principles for each, then follows them more or less mechanically to produce a finished product. Besides creating paintings based on music, he’s also done the reverse, using “the visual dynamics of a painting as a score for generating sound.” You might think that this obsession with system-building would result in predictable art. Yet Roden always leaves room for improvisation. “Rules are broken, mistakes are made and embraced.” Despite their programmatic origins, his works retain “a handmade character that leaves them feeling wobbly, dynamic, and exuberant.”

Roden’s experiments have taken him to some odd places, but this show reveals “certain identifiable progressions,” said Doug Harvey in the LA Weekly. His breakthrough was the “gorgeously rickety” series the silent world (2003–04). Based on Jacques Cousteau’s first book, it combines oils, encaustic, and spray paint in an “alchemical wedding of outsider conceptualism and painterly acumen.” Currently the artist is “translating” a book of poems by Nobel laureate Pär Lagerkvist—despite “the fact that Roden doesn’t read a lick of Swedish.” What does it all mean? Such a question misses the point: Roden’s art invites us to put aside linear thought—and to realize that, in art, logic is a “secondary component” that’s less important than fervent experimentation.

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