August 13, 2022

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Alex Kitnick on Dan Graham

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I Didn’t KNOW Dan Graham well. I fulfilled him a handful of situations in the mid-2000s when I was a graduate scholar at Princeton College. I needed to compose my dissertation on Dan, but I was also young and far too terrified to do it. When, when I achieved him in his loft on New York’s Spring Avenue, he threw a in shape for the reason that I did not know the perform of the Japanese architect Itsuko Hasegawa. I was wet behind the ears and couldn’t obtain my angle—I was too sympathetic to his posture, which was at when ardent, skeptical, and laced with wry humor. With Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, we took an architectural tour of New Jersey, the artist’s home condition, and Dan snapped photos of the octangular structures of Paterson, Alexander Hamilton’s industrial utopia, in which Graham’s compatriot Robert Smithson experienced also rummaged, and of the floppy inflatable figures flailing all-around exurbia-on-Hudson. When I invited Graham to Princeton, he screened a documentary on his work, narrated by the artist. Graham spoke above the soundtrack for an entire hour, offering a authentic-time voice-above that uncannily mirrored the historical record. Like David Antin (a present-day), Dan was a person of the artwork world’s excellent talkers, and still what he stated was neither stream of consciousness nor off the cuff—rather, it was the final result of a existence dedicated to wondering, and wondering once more, about “real life” and the systems that animated it. 1 may possibly simply call these forces culture, but for Dan society was considerably from the Arnoldian idea of the most effective which has been believed and reported. The most generative site was that center place of pop audio, courting services, developers’ architecture, and corporate arcadias, a lesson Graham uncovered, in element, from his study of Pop figures which includes Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Venturi. But if tradition served as the artist’s item of inquiry, artwork furnished the place from which to appear at it, giving an outside angle that authorized for thought. For Graham, artwork and life existed in peculiar tension with every other. He resided somewhere between all those two poles.

Graham arrived to be known as a talker, a figure—indeed, a persona—but he initially offered himself as a author, with a sequence of content articles that appeared in Arts Magazine in the mid-1960s. These texts are now regarded founding documents of Conceptual art, but I’m not convinced that was in any way distinct on their initial overall look (for several decades, it was not even obvious that Graham was an artist). And however, with their deadpan language borrowed from popular sociology, they acted differently from the normal artwork coverage of the time. Was this male significant, with his analysis of suburban tract residences and their flooring programs, named The Concerto, The Nocturne? The context recommended that the writer worked as a result of implication, that his actual subject matter was in other places, across the river in New York, or maybe someplace concerning the artwork galleries of Manhattan and the tract residences of New Jersey, in the morass of culture alone. The higher-h2o mark of Small artwork was 1966, and Graham implied that Minimalism and tract properties shared a logic of repetition. It wasn’t that one particular was riffing on the other, but that a identical spirit bubbled beneath both, and that the social relevance of art may very best be glimpsed by producing this kinship evident.


Graham may well have been Marx-ish, but he was no Marxist. He hardly ever claimed that a capitalist foundation determined a cultural superstructure. Society was created by many forces, and it provided raw substance for earning a thing else. Absolutely, just one of Graham’s terrific works of cultural criticism is his 1982–84 movie essay Rock My Religion, which started out as a collection of texts sprinkled by the art press. Graham commences with concert footage of Black Flag and speedily segues to the Shakers, Patti Smith, and the Lakota Ghost Dance, generating a constellation, or mystery background, of energetic resistance to patriarchy, adulthood, and the powers that be. Rock, Graham claimed, available momentary moments of communal liberation, transcendence, and pleasurable inside of tradition. It was a sonic utopia offered the two more than the airwaves and in the club. Probably, he implied, artwork could possibly the moment once again do that much too.

Graham’s real issue was somewhere else, possibly somewhere between the art galleries of Manhattan and the tract residences of New Jersey, in the morass of tradition itself.

The functions of Graham’s I wrestle with most are his “laboratory experiments” of the 1970s. In a collection of clinically white cubes, Graham created environments comprising mirrors and video that existing the self as fractured and mediated. Within, 1 jumps and sees oneself jumping, and then 8 seconds later a single sees oneself jumping all over again, and then once more and again in infinite regress. Just as Lacan spoke of the mirror phase as crucial to one’s self-image, Graham claimed the online video phase as similarly elementary, and that it might also be employed to forged off the image we had been mounted with by the so-called mirror. And nonetheless I usually felt poked and prodded in these spaces, which now appear, as do quite a few is effective from the era, as medicalized premonitions of the Kusamaesque art-experience-scape we inhabit currently. Graham’s lesson was additional productive, I consider, when he situated similar products in the area of the day-to-day environment. Alteration to a Suburban Household, 1978, is a spare product of a domestic scene in which a home’s facade is replaced by a large glass panel and the inside bisected with a reflective floor. The idea listed here, again, was not that Lacanian dynamics of matter development underlay suburbia but that suburbia itself experienced produced a split in just the topic. Dan was obsessed with issue development and the different systems of classification that induced it, no make a difference how specious race and astrology ended up both equally deciding fictions, but they had to be taken seriously because they developed the frame as a result of which a lot of see the planet. He experienced small time for important identities and authentic expressions, but he appeared impressed by the distinct techniques a matter may be rendered, in truth institutionalized. Ideology occupied everything—we ended up always staying hailed—but Graham refused the bravura of social-observe artwork and its assure of instantaneous antidotes. He sought not so substantially to transform the globe as to make space within it. Just one way to do so was by getting the piss.


Throughout the very last forty-furthermore a long time of his career, Graham designed a sequence of pavilions that found the glassy components of the corporate earth in pastoral configurations. These perfunctory functions of architecture had been intended as areas not for forgetting or escape but for contemplating relationally among city and country—and in time, they asked us to consider relationally among them, too. Graham manufactured so a lot of of them, on web-sites ranging 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 effectively international dimensions. I pranced all-around one particular in a castle in Austria with a friend after and experienced genuine childlike fun, but other people ended up rote, banal, even dull (the terrific, now-dismantled pavilion–video café atop the aged Dia building on New York’s West Twenty-Next Road was a startling exception). As Graham and his workforce erected these mirrored follies, Dan rose, considerably miraculously, to occupy a beatified placement in the art world. He was the kooky uncle of Conceptual artists, a position he played, I envision, in section at the behest of the artwork world’s PR equipment and the numerous artists he supported and fostered. (The portraits completed by his wife, Mieko Meguro, contributed to the image of an artist who performed the wild gentleman blues.) It makes me wonder about the artist’s legacy and the legacy of Conceptual artwork more normally, specifically provided the passing, in December, of Lawrence Weiner, plan art’s irascible linguistic pirate. (It’s worthy of noting that both of those Weiner and Graham were autodidacts. Neither attended university.) Possibly Conceptual art’s tips always floated on a cloud of celebrity—it’s astounding how the portrait addresses of Avalanche journal (1970–76) look like vinyl albums—but I assume we can see now that the ethos of the movement lay a lot less in a desire of dematerialization than in an fascination in information and the techniques it might be shared and embodied, no matter whether by means of publication, video clip, exhibition, collaboration, training, or friendship. Eventually, Dan’s medium was discourse the dialogue he helped initiate continues to extend now.

Alex Kitnick teaches art background at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York. 

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