The artist, Dan Graham, has died over the weekend in New York. Graham’s influence over the past half-century as a writer, photographer, architect, sculptor, filmmaker and performance artist is a great loss to the contemporary art world. Since the 1960s his groundbreaking endeavours in video, installation and audience participation – including such legendary and confrontational works as Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975) and Public Spaces/Two Audiences (1976) – among the first and most enduring examples ever created in those fields.
Graham had a comprehensive sphere of references and wrote about everything from Dean Martin and rock music
Despite his recent disavowal of Conceptual Art as a term, he was one of its earliest pioneers through early text-based works, typographic wall pieces and schematic poems, not to mention the seminal illustrated magazine essay, Homes for America (1966). He exhibited the result of his peers Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Smithson at the John Daniels Gallery in New York. He was briefly the curator and director before showing alongside these and many other Minimalists and Conceptualists during the 1960s and 70s.
Graham himself has described his work and its various manifestations as ‘geometric forms inhabited and activated by the viewer’s presence, [producing] a sense of uneasiness and psychological alienation through a constant play between feelings of inclusion and exclusion.
The main focus of Graham’s art since the late 1970s was an ongoing series of public architectural installations, which he called pavilions, derived from geometric forms and rendered in plate glass, two-way mirrors, and steel armatures. Graham intended his pavilions to function as punctuation marks, pausing or altering the experience of physical space, providing a momentary diversion for romance or play, or else as places to delve into other activities, like reading or viewing videos. These deceptively simple structures recall many of the artist’s earlier experiments with perception, reflection, and refraction, but depart from them in their non-gallery setting as long-term additions to the landscape.
For most of his life, Graham was born in Urbana, Illinois, USA, in 1942 and lived and worked in New York. He has had solo exhibitions at Sirius Arts Centre, County Cork, Ireland (2018); the Red Brick Museum, Beijing, China (2017); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia (2017); The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, USA (2016); Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH, USA (2016); MAMO, Marseille, France (2015); ETH Zurich, Switzerland (2015); Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2014); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2014); Kunstmuseum Sankt Gallen, St Gallen, Switzerland (2011); Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu, Japan (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA (2009); Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Italy (2006); Museu Serralves, Porto, Portugal (2001); Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK (1997); Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (1993); Kunsthalle Berne, Bern, Switzerland (1983); and the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA (1981). In addition, he has participated in dOCUMENTA 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10, Kassel, Germany (1972, 1977, 1982, 1992, 1997) and shown work at the Venice Biennale, Italy (1976, 2003, 2005). Among numerous awards, he received the Coutts Contemporary Art Foundation Award, Zurich, Switzerland (1992), the French Vermeil Medal, Paris, France (2001). In addition, he was honoured by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, the USA, in 2010.
Graham had a comprehensive sphere of references and wrote about everything from Dean Martin and rock music to astrology and urban architecture. He is survived by his wife, the artist Mieko Meguro. His wit, generosity and irascibility will be sorely missed by all who knew him. Our deepest sympathies are with his family and friends.
Top Photo: Courtesy Lisson Gallery