Review: Ron Terada – Who I Think I Am

Ron Terada, Soundtrack for an Exhibition, video still. Image courtesy Ikon

Exhibition: Ron Terada – Who I Think I Am, Ikon, Birmingham, until May 16 2010

A brief digression on Vancouver may be needed. Thanks to a generation of artists that includes Jeff Wall, the third largest city in Canada has become an unlikely art world capital. So Ron Terada has emerged from a local scene which is also an international brand.

In the most comprehensive exhibition of his work to date we are greeted by this fact. A large highway sign facing the entrance marks out the cultural space with the words: Entering city of Vancouver.

It is too literal to be taken seriously and comes with quote marks attached. A photo on the wall shows an original sign by the roadside on the cover of a book about art in the city. The image was also used for a group show poster, then for an ad, and Terada has put similar signs in gallery windows.

The meaning of the piece gets more complicated at every turn, and the same could be said of all Terada’s work. Shifting contexts are a vital part of the experience.

Another piece, Soundtrack for an Exhibition, is both a video installation and an LP. A darkened enclosure has been constructed where you can listen to the soundtrack and watch it spin on a turntable at the same time. Stacks of the eponymous record propped against the wall appear to offer the chance to extend the exhibition into your home.

Even when Terada paints, he paints about painting. Jack is an extensive typographic work which reproduces the text of out-of-print book Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia.

Lacking recognition as an artist, Goldstein becomes a drug addict living without electricity or water in a trailer. Eventually he kills himself. There is a fierce irony about the inclusion of these slick acrylic panels in a show called Who I Think I Am.

Ultimately, Terada is a conceptual artist from Vancouver with a hip taste in music who presents himself as a conceptual artist from Vancouver with a hip taste in music. Rest assured, that is more complicated than it sounds.

Written for Culture24.

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