Sur Rodney (Sur)

(born 1954, Montreal, Quebec; lives and works in New York, New York)

Sur Rodney (Sur) (with Hope Sandrow)

Sur Rodney (Sur) (with Hope Sandrow)
Free Advice July 6, 2008 (video still), 2008
Digital video
TRT 3:00
Courtesy the artists

Sur Rodney (Sur) is a writer, artist, archivist and activist. A fixture on the East Village art scene, Sur was co-director, with business partner Gracie Mansion, of the celebrated Gracie Mansion Gallery (1983–88), which helped establish the international reputations of many young and emerging artists. In the late 1980s, Sur shifted his practice to work with artists affected by the growing AIDS crisis, leading to his involvement with Visual AIDS and the Frank Moore Archive Project. He also began to collaborate on curatorial projects with his longtime partner Geoffrey Hendricks, organizing a series of exhibitions related to art and AIDS.

Sur often works collaboratively, drawing variously on performance, poetry, community archives and activism. Free Advice July 6, 2008 (2008) was created in collaboration with Hope Sandrow. In the work, Sur set up a roadside counseling business along a two-lane rural highway with a sign reading “Free Advice.” His office was comprised of a wooden table with two chairs—one for him and one for a guest. Intrigued, passersby stopped to take a seat and ask him about issues in their lives, to which he offered carefully considered responses. Since its debut, Sur has reprised the performance many times, often along rural highways in the Northeast. He also recreated it at the opening reception for Radical Presence at the Grey Art Gallery on September 9, 2013.

Sur Rodney (Sur) moved to New York in 1976 after graduating with honors from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School of Art and Design, and became an active member of the arts community. In 1980, Sur hosted a series of television talk shows advertised as the Sur Rodney Sur Show and the All New Sur Rodney (Sur) Show, which were featured on Manhattan Cable Television and at the Mudd Club in New York. During that year, the artist also became a member of the Blackheart Collective, a group of gay black poets, writers, and multimedia performance artists. His writings from this period would later be featured in publications such as The Road Before Us: One Hundred Black Gay Poets (1991) and Words of Fire (1995). He has also worked as an arts administrator. From 1982 until 1988, Sur worked to much acclaim as the co-director of the Gracie Mansion Gallery. After a brief respite from the New York art scene, he was named executor and archivist for the Swiss painter and printmaker Andreas Senser. During the 1990s, Sur also archived the estates of many other artists, including Angel Borrero, Bern Boyle, Timothy Greathouse, Gayle Kirkpatrick and Neil Polen. For his work within the HIV/AIDS community, Sur was invited to join the board of Visual AIDS in the mid-1990s. With the support of Visual AIDS, Sur co-founded the Frank Moore Archive Project (1996) with Geoffrey Hendricks and Frank Moore; this project supports artists with HIV/AIDS in the management of their estates. In 2002, Sur assisted Hendricks in organizing the historic exhibition and accompanying text, Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia, and Rutgers University, 1958–1972. Another collaboration with Derek Jackson brought about Hung, a quarterly zine, in 2007. Later that year, Sur began archiving the works of artists George Deem and Lorraine O’Grady and continued his ongoing organization of the estates of Buster Cleveland, Stephen Varble, Al Hansen, and Brian Buczak, among others. Select performances include Nipplemuse, Envoy Gallery, New York (2009); Free Advice, Montauk Highway, Southampton, NY (2007); Yellow, Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2005); Wedding Event, Judson Memorial Church, New York (1995); Croton on the Hudson, Croton-on-Hudson, NY (1994); Untitled (Taped Mouth), Gracie Mansion Gallery, New York (1983); Nifty Nipper Pits Party, A’s Space, New York (1981); Sur Rodney Sur Show and the All New Sur Rodney Sur Show, Manhattan Cable and Mudd Club, New York (1980); AHWS, Animal Hospital of Washington Square, New York (1979); Sirloin Steak, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal (1977); S’AMUSEE, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal (1976); Candy Darlings, 112 Greene Street, New York (1976–79); Security, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, School of Art and Design (1975); Corridor, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, School of Art and Design (1974); and Plexiglas, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, School of Art and Design (1974).