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Alex Kitnick on Dan Graham

Alex Kitnick on Dan Graham

Alex Kitnick on Dan Graham



I DIDN’T KNOW Dan Graham properly. I met him a handful of occasions within the mid-2000s after I was a graduate pupil at Princeton College. I needed to put in writing my dissertation on Dan, however I used to be too younger and too terrified to do it. As soon as, after I met him in his loft on New York’s Spring Road, he threw a match as a result of I didn’t know the work of the Japanese architect Itsuko Hasegawa. I used to be moist behind the ears and couldn’t discover my angle—I used to be too sympathetic to his place, which was without delay ardent, skeptical, and laced with wry humor. With Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, we took an architectural tour of New Jersey, the artist’s residence state, and Dan snapped footage of the octangular buildings of Paterson, Alexander Hamilton’s industrial utopia, the place Graham’s compatriot Robert Smithson had additionally rummaged, and of the floppy inflatable figures flailing round exurbia-on-Hudson. After I invited Graham to Princeton, he screened a documentary on his work, narrated by the artist. Graham spoke over the soundtrack for a whole hour, providing a real-time voice-over that uncannily mirrored the historic file. Like David Antin (a up to date), Dan was one of many artwork world’s nice talkers, and but what he mentioned was neither stream of consciousness nor off the cuff—relatively, it was the results of a life devoted to considering, and considering once more, about “actual life” and the techniques that animated it. One may name these forces tradition, however for Dan tradition was removed from the Arnoldian idea of the very best which has been thought and mentioned. Essentially the most generative web site was that center house of pop music, relationship providers, builders’ structure, and company arcadias, a lesson Graham realized, partially, from his examine of Pop figures together with Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Venturi. But when tradition served because the artist’s object of inquiry, artwork supplied the house from which to take a look at it, providing an out of doors angle that allowed for thought. For Graham, artwork and life existed in unusual pressure with one another. He resided someplace between these two poles.

Graham got here to be generally known as a talker, a determine—certainly, a persona—however he first offered himself as a author, with a sequence of articles that appeared in Arts Journal within the mid-Nineteen Sixties. These texts at the moment are thought-about founding paperwork of Conceptual artwork, however I’m not satisfied that was in any method clear on their first look (for a few years, it was not even clear that Graham was an artist). And but, with their deadpan language borrowed from in style sociology, they acted otherwise from the everyday artwork protection of the time. Was this man critical, along with his evaluation of suburban tract houses and their ground plans, named The Concerto, The Nocturne? The context steered that the writer labored by means of implication, that his actual topic was elsewhere, throughout the river in New York, or maybe someplace between the artwork galleries of Manhattan and the tract homes of New Jersey, within the morass of tradition itself. The high-water mark of Minimal artwork was 1966, and Graham implied that Minimalism and tract houses shared a logic of repetition. It wasn’t that one was riffing on the opposite, however {that a} related spirit bubbled beneath each, and that the social relevance of artwork may greatest be glimpsed by making this kinship obvious.


Dan Graham, Alteration to a Suburban House, 1978, painted wood, textile, plastic, fiberboard, paper, glass, approx. 60 × 58 × 49".

Graham might need been Marx-ish, however he was no Marxist. He by no means claimed {that a} capitalist base decided a cultural superstructure. Tradition was made by many forces, and it supplied uncooked materials for making one thing else. Definitely, one among Graham’s nice works of cultural criticism is his 1982–84 video essay Rock My Faith, which began as a sequence of texts sprinkled by means of the artwork press. Graham begins with live performance footage of Black Flag and shortly segues to the Shakers, Patti Smith, and the Lakota Ghost Dance, making a constellation, or secret historical past, of energetic resistance to patriarchy, maturity, and the powers that be. Rock, Graham claimed, provided non permanent moments of communal liberation, transcendence, and enjoyable inside tradition. It was a sonic utopia accessible each over the airwaves and within the membership. Maybe, he implied, artwork may as soon as once more do this too.

Graham’s actual topic was elsewhere, maybe someplace between the artwork galleries of Manhattan and the tract homes of New Jersey, within the morass of tradition itself.

The works of Graham’s I battle with most are his “laboratory experiments” of the Nineteen Seventies. In a sequence of clinically white cubes, Graham created environments comprising mirrors and video that current the self as fractured and mediated. Inside, one jumps and sees oneself leaping, after which eight seconds later one sees oneself leaping once more, after which repeatedly in infinite regress. Simply as Lacan spoke of the mirror stage as essential to at least one’s self-image, Graham claimed the video stage as equally elementary, and that it may additionally be used to solid off the picture we had been fastened with by the so-called mirror. And but I typically felt poked and prodded in these areas, which now seem, as do many works from the period, as medicalized premonitions of the Kusamaesque art-experience-scape we inhabit immediately. Graham’s lesson was simpler, I feel, when he situated related gadgets within the house of the on a regular basis world. Alteration to a Suburban Home, 1978, is a spare mannequin of a home scene by which a house’s facade is changed by an enormous glass panel and the inside bisected with a reflective floor. The concept right here, once more, was not that Lacanian dynamics of topic formation underlay suburbia however that suburbia itself had created a break up inside the topic. Dan was obsessive about topic formation and the totally different techniques of classification that induced it, regardless of how specious; race and astrology had been each figuring out fictions, however they needed to be taken severely as a result of they created the body by means of which many see the world. He had little time for important identities and genuine expressions, however he appeared amazed by the other ways a topic may be rendered, certainly institutionalized. Ideology occupied every part—we had been at all times being hailed—however Graham refused the bravura of social-practice artwork and its promise of on the spot antidotes. He sought not a lot to vary the world as to create space inside it. A method to take action was by taking the piss.

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Dan Graham, Star of David Pavilion for Schloss Buchberg, 1991–96, two-way mirror, aluminum, Plexiglas. Installation view, Schloss Buchberg, Austria, ca. 1990s.

Over the past forty-plus years of his profession, Graham created a sequence of pavilions that situated the glassy supplies of the company world in pastoral settings. These perfunctory acts of structure had been meant as areas not for forgetting or escape however for considering relationally between metropolis and nation—and in time, they requested us to suppose relationally between them, too. Graham made so a lot of them, on websites starting from Kunst-Werke in Berlin to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from Brazil to Israel to Japan, that they marked the artwork world’s geography as its footprint expanded to correctly international dimensions. I pranced round one in a fort in Austria with a good friend as soon as and had real childlike enjoyable, however others had been rote, banal, even boring (the good, now-dismantled pavilion–video café atop the outdated Dia constructing on New York’s West Twenty-Second Road was a startling exception). As Graham and his workforce erected these mirrored follies, Dan rose, considerably miraculously, to occupy a beatified place within the artwork world. He was the kooky uncle of Conceptual artists, a job he performed, I think about, partially on the behest of the artwork world’s PR machine and the numerous artists he supported and fostered. (The portraits carried out by his spouse, Mieko Meguro, contributed to the picture of an artist who performed the wild man blues.) It makes me marvel concerning the artist’s legacy and the legacy of Conceptual artwork extra usually, particularly given the passing, in December, of Lawrence Weiner, thought artwork’s irascible linguistic pirate. (It’s value noting that each Weiner and Graham had been autodidacts. Neither attended faculty.) Maybe Conceptual artwork’s concepts at all times floated on a cloud of celeb—it’s astounding how the portrait covers of Avalanche journal (1970–76) appear to be vinyl albums—however I feel we will see now that the ethos of the motion lay much less in a dream of dematerialization than in an curiosity in info and the methods it may be shared and embodied, whether or not by means of publication, video, exhibition, collaboration, educating, or friendship. Finally, Dan’s medium was discourse; the dialogue he helped provoke continues to increase immediately.

Alex Kitnick teaches artwork historical past at Bard School in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York. 

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