Dan Graham

Dan Graham’s first works, starting from the mid-sixties, were a response to the contemporary art and the art system. Following a brief experience as the director of an art gallery, during which he came into direct contact with the emerging Minimalist movement, he decided to use the pages of commercial magazines to present his own works. With respect to the context of traditional art spaces, Graham was attracted by the close tie the press has with real time and its necessity to renew its contents daily, weekly, or monthly. Thus the artist could put his audience in contact with a temporality not aligned with the ideal eternity of art. On pages otherwise intended for advertising he published conceptual works that subverted that same Pop logic of using images taken from media and mass culture contexts that reflect on the idea of art as an economic product.
Interested in the complex relationship that exists between the work of art and the spectator, starting in the seventies Graham began to use performance, video, and film. Through performance, which video can document in real time, the artist investigated new definitions of the concept of the audience, elevating it from its traditional position of mere observer. Even when he exhibited himself, Graham experimented with ways that allowed the audience to find itself in a position analogous to and equally important as that of the performer. The importance given to the visual process as the determining element of the content and meaning of the work was developed in the films he produced between 1969 and 1974. Through its declared presence in the sphere of the work, the video camera affirmed the pre-eminence of the visual act. However, it is video—often presented within the context of structures similar to architectural models—that is the medium which allows the artist to more freely analyze the themes regarding vision and its relationship to spatial and temporal dimensions. In various installations, Graham has used a video camera connected to a monitor, allowing the public to perceive its own image in a different time with respect to that of the actual recording. The categories regarding present, past, and future are in this way re-examined. Similarly, the concepts of internal/external and public/private are also placed under scrutiny, thanks to the use of glass and mirrors. Above all, however, it is the role of the audience that becomes fundamental, as the artist’s work exists only through its viewers. In Graham’s videos, the observer often corresponds to the person who is observed: both are the subject and object of the work. And in turn artistic work shifts from the traditional object to become a fluid process open to the surrounding world, capable of interacting and taking an active part in the sphere of social exchange.
These themes are further investigated by the artist in the pavilions he began to produce in 1980. Constructed in metal and glass, they are characterized by an aesthetic that intentionally refers to Modernist architecture and Minimalist sculpture, both of which are subjected to a profound critical investigation. Often installed outdoors, like real independent constructions, Graham’s pavilions are traversable structures. The use of opaque or reflecting glass contributes towards regenerating the artist’s investigation concerning the borderlines between the presumed identification of the internal as a private dimension and the external as a public place, hence renewing the question regarding the definition of the work of art and its context. [M.B.]

List of Works

Past Future Split Attention, 1972
video, black and white, sound, 17 min. 03 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Inside the same space two persons who know each other speak into a microphone: one man predicts the behavior of the other, while the other person narrates the past behavior of his acquaintance. The performance documented by the video represents one of the artist’s investigations dealing with the psychological aspects of space and time.

Performer/Audience/Mirror, 1977
video, black and white, sound, 22 min. 52 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In real time, the artist describes his gestures to the public, and then describes the public itself. He subsequently places himself in front of a mirroring wall and once again begins the two descriptions looking at the reflected reality.

Minor Threat, 1983
video, color, sound, 38 min. 18 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
With a documentary style, the artist talks about a concert by Minor Threat, a Washington, D.C. hardcore music group. The video shows the aggressiveness unleashed by the concert and represents a chapter in the more in-depth investigation regarding popular music and its ritual implications the artist has carried out in a number of his works.

Rock My Religion, 1982–1984
video, black and white, color, sound, 55 min. 27 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In making use of written texts, sound, and visual material, the artist’s intention is to demonstrate the close relationship between religion and rock music. The video focuses mainly on the Shakers, the religious sect founded by Ann Lee, a woman who believed she was the female incarnation of Christ. More specifically, the artist concentrates on their community rites, which included dances done in a state of trance and considered necessary for the healing of the soul. These rites, which have represented an important aspect of American culture, are paralleled with the ideology of fifties and sixties rock’n’roll music.