Dan Graham’s conceptual art practice is tied to architecture and built-environment

American artist Dan Graham speaks with STIR about the relationship shared among architecture, built-environment and viewers on the sidelines of his show at 303 Gallery, New York.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Jul 23, 2021

The New York-based conceptual artist, Dan Graham, is touted as one of the pioneers of the conceptual art movement, which was still at the nascent stage, but not for long, in the early 1960s. At the intersection of architecture, environment and humans, Graham’s concept-based installation art practice has defied the fundamental definition of medium, object and space. The disregard for the conventional rules and regulations for Graham is an invitation for the audience to be both viewers and participants to his large-scale installation. Over the past, a little less than 60 years, the sanctity of the white-cube space has been disturbed in the hands of Graham, to bring in the discussion on mass production: an effort to steer the way for democratic spaces in the world of arts.

Using the language of written words, photography and performance, Graham revisits the aesthetics of corporate offices, magazines devoted to music, shopping malls and suburban houses to add an element of novelty in the daily life of people. A contemporary of the artists such as Sol Le Witt, Donald Judd and Robert Smithson, Graham explains his works, in the publication Two-Way Mirror Power, as the “geometric forms inhabited and activated by the presence of the viewer, (producing) a sense of uneasiness and psychological alienation through a constant play between feelings of inclusion and exclusion.”

In the latest exhibition Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges at the 303 Gallery, New York, the gallery, as a kind of “automobile showroom”, for the viewers opened an opportunity to foster a relationship that could be nurtured on physical and psychological understanding. The pavilions, for instance, Skateboard Pavilion, as a manifestation of both the corporate and landscape architecture led to a phantasmagoric effect. If the glass and mirrored pavilions are the embodiment of conceptual designs, then the magazine pages, as well as the colourful photographs of the suburban houses are dubbed as his “pre-conceptual art”. The video projection was also displayed to underscore Graham’s design for the runway for Celine’s SS17 collection at Paris Fashion Week. The curved hedges and curved two-way mirror of the large graphic of a park design was a revamp of a small city park in the south American nation Mexico, the hometown of El Chapo, former head of the Sinaloa Cartel.

In an interview with STIR, Graham talks about his recently concluded exhibition Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges, his deep interests in music, and if the architectural elements of his installations activate an immersive experience for the viewers.

Installation view, Dan Graham, Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges | Dan Graham | STIRworld
Installation view, Dan Graham, Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges Image: John Berens, Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York

Dilpreet Bhullar (DB): Can you please tell us more about the title of the exhibition Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges. How do the three elements - models, sizes and ranges - speak to each other?

Dan Graham (DG): The title of the exhibition, Three Sizes, Three Models, Three Price Ranges, refers to the rectangular gallery space. I thought that if the front wall was transparent glass, it would be similar to the Upper West Side luxury showrooms displaying different models of cars with different price ranges. The large-scale Ovoid Pavilion is designed to counteract the rectangular space of the gallery. Its placement in a particular direction opened ways for the people, who enter the gallery, to walk around - the outside, or simultaneously walk on the inside of the two-way mirror surface and gaze at each others' faces. The interior space of Ovoid is somewhere between a circle and an ellipse, creating a strange, dead-end interior. My use of the Ovoid comes from the point of view of Russian Constructivism. To add, the exhibition could have been subtitled Ovoid defeats Rectangle.

The normal-sized model called Fun House / Swimming Pool is a proposal for a small museum that might want a smaller outdoor pavilion. It could be used also by children, as both a 'funhouse' and art educational tool for children being bussed in from a nearby school.

The larger model, Neo-Baroque Walkway, relates to some recent works of mine that are either walkways or entrance doors to older European museums. At a full scale, I think it would work well with changing sunlight and could be a fun experience, as well as a photo opportunity for both children and parents walking through it. I see it as perfect for a museum's sculpture garden, since I see them as the new amusement park.

Louisiana channel: Dan Graham – recreatings childhood desire | Dan Graham | STIRworld
Louisiana channel: Dan Graham – recreatings childhood desire Image: Courtesy of Dan Graham, 303 Gallery, New York

DB: How does your tryst with music inform your art practice, if you would like to briefly talk about it?

DG: My love of three Los Angeles bands, The Byrds, The Seeds, and Love, as well as The Kinks, is quite important. The LA bands' music is psychedelic, and a somewhat psychedelic feeling of my installations may have been informed by these bands. The Kinks, my other favourite band, have a song See my friends, which Ray Davies wrote after listening to Indian music during an overnight stay when switching planes in Bombay. This may have been an influence along with science fiction writing on my interest in a time distortion, which figures into the works of mine such as my performance, Past Present Future.

Installation view, Dan Graham, Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges | Dan Graham | STIRworld
Installation view, Dan Graham, Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges Image: John Berens, Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York

DB: Do you think if the presence of architectural elements opens the possibility for an immersive experience, could you elaborate on this?

DG: The elements I use are from everyday urban architecture. My first pavilion came from the idea of combining the telephone booth or bus shelter with Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion. I am interested in the optics of corporate office building facades found in major cities. Some new work of mine has been influenced by looking at the outdoor areas of corporate building lobbies, which often have stainless steel, anamorphic columns, and planters.

Two-way Mirror / Hedge Follie (Re-design of a City Park), Culiacan, Mexico | Dan Graham | STIRworld
Two-way Mirror / Hedge Follie (Re-design of a City Park), Culiacan, Mexico Image: Courtesy of Dan Graham, 303 Gallery, New York

DB: Could you briefly walk us through the creative purpose of the works on display at the exhibition?

DG: The exhibition also includes a graphic for a redesign of a small park in Mexico, using on one side, a curved hedge, and on the other curved two-way mirror glass. In another room, I showed a video projection of my design for the Celine runway at Paris Fashion Week some years ago. This is a continuation of my interest in creating designs for fashion displays, which began with an unrealised proposal for Liza Bruce Boutique, a small store that was in London. I wanted the exhibition to show diverse aspects of my most recent work, highlighting its hybrid nature across the fields of art, design, and landscape architecture.

Installation view, Dan Graham, Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges | Dan Graham | STIRworld
Installation view, Dan Graham, Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges Image: John Berens, Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York

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