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Steve Roden

floating over the silent world

July 20September 7, 2024

Gallery III

This image illustrates a link to the exhibition titled Steve Roden: floating over the silent world

Press Release

Vielmetter Los Angeles presents floating over the silent world, a tribute exhibition of Steve Roden’s lesser-known paintings, drawings, and sculptures from 1990 to 2019. The exhibition marks his passing in September 2023 and showcases the artist’s visionary aesthetic.

On Saturday, September 7 at 2 pm, Michael Ned Holte and Alison O’Daniel will remember their mutual friend and collaborator Steve Roden with a program of words, images, sounds, and a conversation.

The exhibition floating over the silent world touches on moments throughout the artist’s career where Roden developed and expanded his conceptual practice. Comprising a selection of works from over three decades, it includes the surface of the moon (2001)—a key early sculptural installation which debuted in the Hammer Museum’s first Snapshot exhibition in 2001—and works on paper and paintings from the transformative series “the silent world” and “water music.”

Roden intuitively translated forms of notation into scores or maps, which were used to influence the process of constructing a painting, drawing, sculpture, or composition. This map making became the rules and systems for generating visual actions such as color choices, number of elements, amounts of time, and form building.

A true polymath, Roden was also revered internationally in the field of experimental music, where he pioneered the lowercase style of music. In his obituary, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight called Roden a “quintessential artist’s artist”1 widely admired by his peers, including Doug Aitken, Dan Goodsell, John O’Brien, and Stas Orlovski, along with his instructors at Otis College of Art and Design and at ArtCenter College of Design, Roy Dowell, Mike Kelley, Stephen Prina, Gary Panter, and Emerson Woelffer. Roden admired and was influenced by artists as varied as his own practice—John Cage, Arthur Dove, Simone Forti, Frederick Hammersley, Alfred Jensen, Allan Kaprow, and Paul Klee—who also merged systems with intuition.

The threads of his signature practice emerged in the early 1990s, as evidenced in the two earliest works on view in the exhibition—a small untitled 1990 painting and guardian angels from 1993. Loosely rendered on a handmade wood panel, the 1990 painting layers a loose blue-green grid and elongated ovals that burst in a star-like pattern on the painting’s top half. The irregular brushstrokes and facile color-work serve as a precursor to his later abstractions. Roden also used language and letters regularly in his practice. In guardian angels, white letters march drunkenly across the limpid greenish-brown surface, oscillating between doodling and poetry.

The surface of the moon, a major sculptural installation that reflects the increasing maturation of Roden’s translation systems from specific sources, consists of 490 small hand-carved objects—the same number of land formations in an astronomy book called Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes. Inspired by the list of craters, mountains, and other objects from this turn-of-the-century map of the moon, Roden set out to create a system to fabricate the objects:

each object’s height and materials were determined by the vowels in a name. the number of vowels determined the height of an object, while each different vowel in a name determined the materials that were added to the wooden object (wood acting as the consonant). The system I set up was: a = wax; e = wire; I = tin foil; o = gesso; u = pencil

Once these parameters were determined, Roden carved the form with a chop saw and belt sander. The surface of the moonwas one of the first works to be defined by predetermined formal variables and that allowed text to determine the outcome of the work’s physical presence. By precisely using the text as a score, this work led to a breakthrough in his practice.

This resolution is evident in the Roden’s multi-year series “the silent world” and seen here in two paintings from 2005, human scale (my body floating over the silent world, where bells sound like rainbows) and the silent world. This body of work articulates how Roden combined both conceptual and intuitive frameworks to translate obscure systems of literary reference into visual designs. In 2003, Roden explained how he was conceiving this series:

the silent world paintings were created using a system of visual translation that began with a simple letter-to-measured line equivalence: a = 1 inch line, b = 2 inch line, etc. each painting contains a visual translation of the title of Jacques Cousteau’s first book The Silent World [1953]. over the past year, the systems have become more elaborate, and each painting is built from the intuitive collisions of several different translation methods and rules.

In later work, Roden continued to build his imagery through improvisation and accumulation. For example, in 2015’s the sky crying is Roden incorporated an issue of the Italian architecture magazine, Domus, published April 1964 (the month and year of his birth). The collage features triangular cutouts that loosely reveal architectural images behind a surface of hand-painted colorful stripes. In the paintings from 33 to 45, Roden responded to his favorite music albums. The paintings are based on translating sounds into a colorful set of marks and gestures, creating vibrant oval forms that echo the history of record albums. The synchronic dialogues created through various sources and inspirations connect to each other and create moments of generosity, harmony, and discord, inviting contemplation and multiple interpretations, or perhaps as Roden said in 2007, “a powerful vibrational moment.”

Vielmetter Los Angeles is pleased to present our exhibition concurrently with both the launch of the Steve Roden Endowed Scholarship at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, where the artist attended graduate school, and the refabrication of Roden’s 2004 major sculptural and multisensory installation ear(th) by Fulcrum Arts on the occasion of their Energy Fields: Vibrations of the Pacific exhibition. Part of the Getty initiative PST ART: Art & Science Collide, the exhibition will open on September 15, 2024, at, and co-presented with, Chapman University. Energy Fields is an exhibition, publication, and public program co-curated by Robert Takahashi Novak and Lawrence English. Roden’s music is also being featured this year by Aurora Central Records in Mexico. They are releasing a new remastered album called forms of paper, an influential experimental musical work originally released in 2001 to wide acclaim.

[1] Knight, Christopher. “Steve Roden, a vivaciously inventive and quintessential ‘artist’s artist,’ dies at 59”. Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2023

About the artist

Steve Roden was born in 1964 in Los Angeles and lived there until his death in September 2023. He attended Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design where he received his BA in 1986, and Art Center College of Design where he received his MA in 1989.

Since 1986, Roden consistently exhibited and performed his work across the United States and internationally. His first exhibition at Vielmetter Los Angeles was in 2003, followed by eight other solo exhibitions. This is his ninth exhibition at the gallery. His artwork has been exhibited at venues including: LAX Airport, Terminal 5, Los Angeles; La Kunsthalle Mulhouse Center for Contemporary Art, Mulhouse, France; Mercosur Biennial, Porto Alegre Brazil; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla, CA; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece; Singuhr-Horgalerie, Berlin; Stadtgalerie, Saarbrücken, Germany; Center for Book Arts, New York; The Kitchen, New York; Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, CA; La Casa Encendida, Madrid; and Studio la Citta, Verona, Italy; among others.

Roden performed his soundworks at various arts spaces and experimental music festivals worldwide including: Serpentine Gallery, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Dca Dundee, Scotland; Redcat, Los Angeles; and Crawford Gallery, Cork, Ireland. He created numerous site-specific sound works for spaces such as MOCA at the Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles; The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; the Mak Center For Art And Architecture/Schindler House, Los Angeles; Chinati, Marfa, Texas; City University Of Hong Kong; Girard College, Philadelphia; and the city of West Hollywood, CA.

His artwork is held in many public and private collections including Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece; the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; the Blanton Museum of Art, University Of Texas, Austin; the Palm Springs Museum, Palm Springs, CA; and Benton Museum Of Art at Pomona College, Claremont, CA.