As they reach the top of the escalators on the second floor at MoMA, visitors are greeted by a recent acquisition by the South African–born, German-based artist Robin Rhode. Car on Bricks (2008) consists essentially of an idea that the artist has issued in an edition of fifteen unusual multiples, each consisting of a wall drawing and two piles of bricks.
Rhode has developed a unique interdisciplinary approach that brings together drawing, performance, and photography, as well as film and animation. His work blurs the boundary between art and everyday life, and it often seeps outside the walls of museums and galleries, infiltrating itself into the surrounding cityscape. There’s a kind of alchemical magic to his work. He takes these incredibly quotidian, humble materials, such as paint, chalk, charcoal, and found objects, and draws pictures directly on walls, or floors, or asphalt; the pieces then seem to transform into three dimensions by virtue of his or viewers’ interactions with them. You can see this kind of magic at work in Stone Flag, a series of photos acquired by MoMA in 2004.
Rhode is definitely influenced by urban life and street culture, and his work frequently depicts basketball, breakdancing, skateboarding, and bicycle riding. He’s also informed by his formative years growing up and attending school in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and although his work is playful, is it also provocative, with recurrent references to the social and economic reality of post-apartheid South Africa. Over the years, cars have featured prominently in his work as a kind of socioeconomic indicator. In Car on Bricks, the image of a car is stenciled onto the wall, and placed beneath it are two small stacks of bricks where the tires would be, conjuring up a sight familiar in blighted areas. Rhode subtly registers this trace of poverty with a signature sense of humor that questions the sometimes fine line between the real and the illusive.