Born 1969 in Columbia, South Carolina; lives in Los Angeles, California
Reflecting his diverse interest in the boundaries demarcating class, economic status, culture, and their relationship to the physicality of the human body, Rodney McMillian’s mixed-genre practice both incorporates and challenges the notion of art as social and historical critique. Aesthetically, McMillian pits light against dark, while his materials— a palette of primarily black, dark blue, and gray paint on raw, unprimed canvas—eloquently symbolize the often opposing cultural forces underlying the delineations he studies. The battered and discarded mattresses, filing cabinets, wood paneling, chairs, bookshelves, and other postconsumer objects that his installations present elicit comparisons of domesticity, education, and race. Recently his sculptures have begun to formally mimic his unstretched paintings, which drape loosely in gallery corners, trail sewn appendages, or unravel onto the floor to highlight their textile nature. The threedimensional quality of McMillian’s paintings recalls Eva Hesse’s work, though their quick, linear brushstrokes evoke the subliminal emotive release inherent to Abstract Expressionism.
Just as his paintings illustrate the artist’s active, inquisitive process, McMillian’s installations increasingly allude to his live performances, which recontextualize political moments neglected by history books. In Untitled ( Unknown ) (2006), shown in Ordinary Culture at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center in 2006, approximately fifty columns, wrapped in gray fabric and ranging in height from 1 to 11 feet, slouched like architectural ruins or sheepish devotees behind a chipped bust of an anonymous everyman. McMillian described his practice to that exhibition’s curator as “interrogating history as a fixed interpretation and using it almost like a readymade to evaluate its position from the past.” His displays of found busts depicting great men of politics have inspired events in which, dressed in a suit, he recites speeches they gave, reincarnating these powerful figures even while he chides their elitist positions. In 2006 McMillian delivered Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 “Great Society” speech at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, during the opening of Uncertain States of America and again that year for his solo exhibition Odes at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.
McMillian’s paintings have recently become more informed by their current surroundings, complicating his sense of the past. For Odes, in sunny Southern California, McMillian’s Untitled (Sky) (2006) was filled with swirled pours of blue and white latex, sold by the square foot on a sliding scale to parallel the American dream against the backdrop of real estate investment. Untitled ( flag painting ) (2007), McMillian’s take on this American symbol, is a loosely hung red canvas accentuated by two drippy horizontal white stripes and a red stuffed-canvas blob sagging below it. As McMillian continues to explicate present moments, his work comments on the lugubrious underbellies implicit to each cultural progression and movement. TRINIE DALTON
Rodney McMillian, Untitled, 2007. Vinyl and thread, approximately 114 x 156 x 48 in. (290 x 396 x 122 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles