Thursday, November 19, 2009

Exploded View | Matt Olson "Dan Graham: Beyond"

Photo: Annick Herbert/Herbert Collection

When asked recently who his least favorite person in the world is, the artist Dan Graham responded "It's a tie between George W. Bush and Rem Koolhaas." I can't say for sure what this means but, after seeing the fantastic and exhausting retrospective "Dan Graham: Beyond" currently up at the Walker Art Center, it somehow seems like the perfect answer. The same playful, contrarian, punk rock-ish, smart alec tone and spirit is present almost everywhere in the exhibit.

Photo: Dan Graham

Dan Graham isn't a household name but probably should be. Former Walker Art Center curator Philippe Vergne, now the Director of the Dia Art Foundation describes Graham's work as "elitism for everyone." He's often described as an artists artist. Artforum magazine recently wrote about what an admired figure he is amongst young practitioners, and it's easy to see why after taking in the show. Even as he's aged, he's stayed actively involved in the youth based underground DIY scene and punk rock art culture. Maybe it's some youthful restlessness that helped him be at the forefront of just about every art movement that's happened since Minimalism. He really sets a good example as he wanders from exploration to exploration.

Photo: Anabela Rosas Trindade/Fundação Serralves

If you've ever been to the Walker Art Center's Sculpture Garden you'll no doubt remember Graham's Two Way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth (1994). It seems like whenever I'm there, children are busy getting lost in their ghost-like reflections, laughing and learning about perception in a way that's truly joyful to watch. The piece in the Garden is typical of his so called "Pavilions", of which there are many in the exhibit. They are architectural sculptural installations that at first glance call to mind the stripped down "object for object's sake" stance of Minimalism. Graham's statement that all his work is a critique of Minimal art starts to make sense when the viewer approaches one and the sculpture is suddenly filled with motion. Made of mirrors, chrome and steel, they can be as stunningly beautiful as they are disorienting. They're like visual echo chambers that put the viewer in several different places at once, sometimes eliminating the possibility of any sense of self in space.

The retrospective "Dan Graham: Beyond" spans forty some years and includes early experiments with language and the page as a space, his work with video / film, performance based work, conceptual art, and even a charming piece where he simply shows slides of work by artists and architects who have influenced and inspired him. I'm surprised I'm using the word charming here but I think you'll see what I mean. It's a good thing there's a little charm, too, as Graham's work can, on a certain level, be intimidatingly complex, narrow and intense.

So as I found myself being drawn into heavy philosophical questions about perception and analysis, I kept thinking about kids and how they react to these pieces. Children don't think about these things, they experience these things, they participate, they experiment... and I encourage you to do the same thing.

I can not recommend this show strongly enough.

Dan Graham: Beyond
October 31, 2009 - January 24th 2010
Walker Art Center

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