The retrospective examines his extensive body of work in photographs, film and video, architectural models, indoor and outdoor pavilions, conceptual projects for magazine pages, drawings, prints, and writings. Graham has been a central participant in the development of contemporary art since the 1960s-from the rise of minimalism, conceptual art, video art, and performance art, to explorations of architecture and the public sphere, to collaborations with musicians and the culture of rock and roll.
Dan Graham, one of the pioneering figures of
contemporary art, is the subject of a landmark retrospective opening at the Whitney
Museum of American Art on June 25.
Dan Graham: Beyond is the first-ever comprehensive museum survey of Graham’s career to be done in the United States. The show is co-curated by Chrissie Iles, the Whitney’s Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator, and Bennett Simpson, MOCA associate curator. Organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in collaboration with the Whitney, it examines Graham’s extensive body of work in photographs, film and video, architectural models, indoor and outdoor pavilions, conceptual projects for magazine pages, drawings, prints, and writings.
Dan Graham: Beyond is the latest in a trio of collaborations between the Whitney and MOCA, following Gordon Matta-Clark: You Are the Measure and Lawrence Weiner: As Far As the Eye Can See, celebrating the work of three major figures in American art, each of whom emerged in the 1960s. Following its presentation at the Whitney from June 25 to October 11, 2009, the Graham exhibition travels to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, from October 31, 2009 to January 31, 2010.
Graham (b. 1942) has been a central participant in the development of contemporary art since the 1960s—from the rise of minimalism, conceptual art, video art, and performance art, to explorations of architecture and the public sphere, to collaborations with musicians and the culture of rock and roll. This exhibition traces the evolution of Graham’s work through each of its major stages, exploring his principal motifs and concerns, among them his key theme: the changing relationship of the individual to society, as filtered through American mass media and architecture.
Graham was born in Urbana, Illinois, and grew up in suburban New Jersey, a landscape that served as the inspiration for one of his earliest projects, Homes for America (1966–67). While riding the train back from New York City to his parents’ house in New Jersey, Graham took numerous photographs of the tract housing he passed, using a Kodak Instamatic camera. Reveling in the repetition, mass production, and reductive logic of this landscape, these images echoed many of the central concerns of minimalism and led Graham to conceive of his work as a “structure of information.” Presented as a slide show as well as a magazine layout incorporating text, Homes for America is now regarded as one of the seminal artworks of the 1960s. It announced a conception of art grounded in the everyday—in common architecture, in the language of advertising, and made with cheap, disposable tools for mass circulation—and it merged Graham’s interest in cultural commentary with art’s most advanced visual modes.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Graham was also at the forefront of a move by many artists into performance, film, and video. In 1969, he began a series of time-based works, first in film and performance, later in video, that were inspired by the perceptual conditions—feedback, looping, delay—accompanying these modes of art experience. The most culturally profound invention of the postwar era, television, had made an enormous impact on Graham’s generation, and at the heart of his new work was an investigation of the performer-audience relationship as it was filtered and distorted by the technology of the camera. In films like Roll (1970) and Body Press (1970–72), Graham second-guessed the supposed objectivity of the camera by giving the device to actors who performed simple movements (rolling across the floor, circling one another).
At the same time, Graham became closely involved with underground music, writing a series of free-ranging, yet serious speculations on bands like the Kinks, the Fall, and the Sex Pistols. The attempt to shake off social control—to break free of the ideological norms of postwar life—resonated with the artist’s own work in conceptual and media art. One of Graham’s signature works, Rock My Religion (1982–84), is an hour-long “video-essay” in which Graham traced a continuum between the Shakers, the early-American religious sect that sought spiritual transcendence through collective dance and song, and rock music. In the latter’s cathartic sounds and social rites, Graham located an ongoing, if latent, spirit of separatism that has demarcated American culture from its origins. With its bracing footage of Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, and Black Flag, mingled with historical images of a rapt Ann Lee, the founder of the Shaker religion, the work is a classic of underground video and one of the most penetrating commentaries on American youth culture ever made.
For the past two decades, while continuing to make work in numerous media, Graham has been particularly involved with the creation of architectural installations that he refers to as “pavilions.” Extending Graham’s longtime interest in architecture – and, in particular in transparency and mirrors – these pavilions are created of glass and steel and are simply shaped structures with varying degrees of translucency. Some pavilions invite viewers to enter inside, exploring notions of permeability, reflection, and disorientation. Within Triangular Solid with Circular Inserts, for instance, viewers see their own reflections and the vague outline of people outside. Graham continues his work with performance and photography as well as creating site-specific pavilions throughout the world; the exhibition also includes some of the artist’s most recent photographic work.
For more than 40 years, Dan Graham has been at the center of the most vital revolutions in American art and culture. His works can be seen as complex analyses layered with critical reference, anarchistic humor, and an appeal to the broader culture. Resonating with a general attempt of the 1960s to leave the safety of high culture by going into the field— whether that of suburban sprawl, urban planning, or rock and roll—Graham’s art invites the engaged participation of the viewer and, at its core, attempts a physical and philosophical intervention in the public realm.
About the Artist
Dan Graham has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia, including Dan Graham (1998) at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, Spain; and Dan Graham: Works 1965–2000 (2001), a major retrospective organized by the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto, Portugal. His group exhibitions have included Information (1970), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Documenta (1972, 1977, 1982, and 1992), Kassel, Germany; the Venice Biennale (1976 and 2003); the Whitney Biennial (1997 and 2005), New York; 1965–1975: Reconsidering the Object of Art (1995), The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA); A Minimal Future?: Art as Object 1958–1968 (2004), MOCA; and Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970 (2005), Tate Modern, London. Graham is also a widely published critical and cultural commentator. His essays and articles—touching widely on topics ranging from Gestalt psychology to Dean Martin—testify to one of the most prescient voices of his time, one whose mode of cultural observation is influenced by French philosophy, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. Graham lives and works in New York.
Dan Graham: Beyond, a comprehensive volume, accompanies the exhibition; it uses a magazine format in recognition of the artist’s early work in that medium. Designed by Michael Worthington and co-published by MIT Press, the publication includes essays by exhibition co-curators Chrissie Iles and Bennett Simpson, along with essays by Rhea Anastas, Beatriz Colomina, Mark Francis, Alexandra Midal, Mark von Schlegell, and Philippe Vergne; and interviews with Dan Graham by musician Kim Gordon, artist Rodney Graham, and artist Nicolás Guagnini. There is also a biographically inclined manga by Fumihiro Nonomura and Ken Tanimoto. Graham’s own well-known writings—on his own work, that of his peers, and aspects of popular culture such as design—are also featured in a special section, highlighting his accomplishments as a critic.
Public Programs for Dan Graham: Beyond
Artist-curator Howie Chen is organizing a series of Whitney programs in conjunction with Dan Graham: Beyond. Taking the exhibition as a point of departure, Chen looks to musicians and artists for an imaginative approach to Graham’s work. Programs include: a music event to kick off the series; the U.S. premiere of “Put Blood in the Music” (1989), an experimental documentary on the late-nineties New York downtown music scene, introduced by filmmaker Charles Atlas; a conversation between Dan Graham and Glenn Branca, followed by a screening of Graham’s “Westkunst (Modern Period): Dan Graham Segment” (1980); and a roundtable discussion exploring key themes in the work, such as sound, perception, and performance.
Whitney Live Performances for Dan Graham: Beyond, Four Friday Evenings in July Fun and raucous rock concerts in the Whitney's Lower Gallery are being scheduled on four successive summer Friday evenings, July 10, 17, 24, and 31 at 7pm. These events feature young bands that have inherited the New York rock scene from bands that Dan Graham has written about and/or worked with, such as The Feelies, Television, and Sonic Youth. As always, admission to the Whitney on Friday evenings is pay-what-you-wish from 6 to 9pm. Dan Graham: Beyond is organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
The exhibition is made possible by generous support from Marian Goodman Gallery, The MOCA Contemporaries, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, John Morace and Tom Kennedy, Bagley and Virginia Wright, and Marieluise Hessel. Additional support for the Whitney’s presentation is provided by Eileen and Michael Cohen.
Image: Dan Graham performing Performer/Audience/Mirror at P.S.1 Institute for Contemporary Art, Long Island City, NY, 1977. Photo courtesy of the artist.
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