Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dan Graham

I have been to the Dan Graham show now a few times. It isn't a large show per se & as I understand it, he is extremely prolific, but still the work has a peculiar density to it: the film & video work in particular are time-based, as are ostensibly some of the installations of the mirror chambers. But it's not just that: compared to other recent shows of conceptual artists shown at the Whitney, Robert Smithson & Gordon Matta-Clark, the Dan Graham show is remarkably immaterial, it's about questioning situations, space, roles, authority - it is emphatically not about the object but about a physical, social & psychological dynamic.

How curious to think of Dan Graham as immaterial as 1/2 of the show is of his mirror chambers, which are part carnival mirror-labyrinth, part horrifying mall architecture. Both seductive & repellently dystopic. In all their physicality, they are nevertheless about claustrophobia, entrapment, a paranoid sense of totalitarian control - issues not necessarily evident in the glass, wood & steel, per se. There's a sense of humor in the displacement of the senses, the distortion of perceptions, but also there's a deadly serious sense of interrogation, of isolation, of torture to it all, too.

The work by Dan Graham I am most familiar with is the magazine piece Homes for America which was originally published in
Arts Magazine. The layout is on display along with a slideshow of the images & some boards on which images are mounted - a kind of educational presentation. The images, shot in Staten Island & New Jersey, are mock-serious in setting up distinctly formal arrangements of housing developments, which are of a distinctly lowbrow nature. The symmetry or assymetry of doorways & windows. The geometry of cheap materials. The abject non-spaces of fast-food places. In a retrospective manner the images are quite beautiful - but of a chintzy, Las Vegas, cardboard & tinsel kind of sophistication - something promising more than the shit at hand. The images are mounted on boards which are now curling w/ age & humidity.

The cheapness & lack of grandiosity are perhaps what I find most compelling about the work. There is so much to think about in looking at this work.

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