Rodney McMillian: History is Present Tense

  • Hardcover
    9.25 x 12.5 inches
    280 images / 372 pages

    co-published with
    The Contemporary Austin

  • Texts by
    Adrienne Edwards
    Julia V. Hendrickson
    Heather Pesanti
    Bennett Simpson
    Cherise Smith

  • ISBN: 9781942185390
  • Trade Edition: $60.00
  • Signed Edition: $65.00


An intimate and comprehensive look at the latest work from Rodney McMillian, History is Present Tense offers a startling record of the artist’s vision. Spanning the past two decades, the book presents an index of McMillian’s performance-based work, as well as a fresh look at Against a Civic Death, a recent exhibition of McMillian’s at The Contemporary Austin. McMillian’s art is direct and unflinching. Pieces like his hand-sewn vinyl work The White House Painting, 2018, challenge viewers to confront societal and individual narratives—whether those narratives are personal, political, or institutional, whether they are  “true” or fly in the face of truth. Designed and researched with the artist’s close participation, the book itself serves as both a testament to and a manifestation of McMillian’s disruptive, revealing art. History is Present Tense and the exhibition Against a Civic Death mark a pivotal point in the work of Rodney McMillian, recipient of the 2016-2018 Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize, which supports an unrestricted award of $100,000 alongside a solo exhibition, scholarly publication, and public programming, given to an artist selected by an independent panel made up of renowned curators and art historians from across the U.S.


Los Angeles-based artist Rodney McMillian (American, born 1969) holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, a post-baccalaureate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BA (Foreign Affairs) from the University of Virginia. In addition to the frequent inclusion of his work in international biennials and group exhibitions, McMillian has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago; Aspen Art Museum; Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston; Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; MoMA PS1; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Saint Louis Art Museum, and The Contemporary Austin.


Scholarly contributions by Adrienne Edwards, Curator at Large at the Walker Art Center and Curator at Performa; Julia V. Hendrickson, Associate Curator at The Contemporary Austin; Heather Pesanti, Chief Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs of The Contemporary Austin, and curator of the exhibition, Against a Civic Death; Bennett Simpson, Senior Curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Cherise Smith, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin.


As Austin’s only museum solely focused on contemporary artists and their work, The Contemporary Austin offers exhibitions, educational opportunities, and events that start conversations and fuel the city’s creative spirit. Known for artist-centric projects and collaborations, The Contemporary invites exploration in both its urban and natural settings—downtown at the Jones Center on Congress Avenue, lakeside at the Laguna Gloria Campus (including the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park, the Art School, and the historic Driscoll Villa), and around Austin through the Museum Without Walls program.


Rodney McMillian, The White House Painting, 2018.
Vinyl and thread. 13 ft x 42 ft x 4 in.
Commissioned by The Contemporary Austin with
funds provided by the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize.

Rodney McMillian, Untitled (neighbors), 2017.
Single-channel video, color, sound.
Edition of 3, 2 AP. Running time: 20:01, loop.
Commissioned by The Contemporary Austin with
funds provided by the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize.

Rodney McMillian, a prism, 2016.
Fabric, canvas, acrylic, ink,
and sound installation. 13 x 22 ft.

Artwork © Rodney McMillian. Courtesy the artist,
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and
Maccarone, New York. Photographs by Colin Doyle.