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Your 10-minute guide to Dan Graham at the Walker

Galleries 4, 5, and 6 are getting prepped for the arrival of work from Dan Graham: Beyond, which closed on Sunday at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The Los Angeles Times called this retrospective “witty, surprising, smart and engaging” (the show originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art there), and Art […]

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Artist's portrait by Cameron Wittig

Galleries 4, 5, and 6 are getting prepped for the arrival of work from Dan Graham: Beyond, which closed on Sunday at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The Los Angeles Times called this retrospective “witty, surprising, smart and engaging” (the show originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art there), and Art in America noted that it “perhaps says as much about popular culture of the last 40 years as about Graham himself.”

Peter Eleey, who is organizing the Walker’s presentation of this show, has noted a pretty consistent binary quality that runs through Graham’s otherwise incredibly diverse body of work: It’s in the low/high, inside/outside take on the ways in which Graham views culture, and in the ways viewers see Graham’s work (and often in how the work itself is configured); in the artist’s ideas about both the production and the consumption of culture; and in the various combinations of transparency and reflection that form the crux of many of his projects.

This oppositional way of reading his work, coupled with its lack of a signature “style,” can combine to make Graham’s art seem elusive. But once you tap into the frequency on which he’s operating, the artist’s vision really does cohere. In fact, that consistent vision, coupled with a restless curiosity—thus the “beyond” of the exhibition title—is what led the Walker to follow Graham’s career and collect his work for decades, acquiring its first piece by the artist in 1978.

That means there’s a fair amount of material on our websites about this artist—a convenient source for background on Graham before the retrospective opens on October 31. You might start with this profile of Graham, plus a selection of his works from the Walker collection. The biography is taken from the catalog for Let’s Entertain—a Walker exhibition curated in 2000 by former chief curator Philippe Vergne that featured one of Graham’s pavilions, New Space for Showing Videos (shown here), which offers bean bag chairs and the prospect of watching videos of other people watching videos in the same pavilion. That piece will also be on view in Dan Graham: Beyond. (Graham’s work has also been included several other Walker-organized exhibitions: American Tableaux, Artists’ Books, The Last Picture Show: Artists Using Photography, 1960-1982, and Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.)

“New Space for Showing Videos,” installed at the Walker's 2000 exhibition, "Let's Entertain"

“New Space for Showing Videos,” installed at the Walker's 200 exhibition, "Let's Entertain"

See also:

Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30 — Six years after his work appeared in Let’s Entertain, the Walker co-commissioned and presented this splashier Graham spectacle: a rock opera performed by puppets. Since collaboration was at the heart of Don’t Trust Anyone, Graham participated in a discussion (if you’ve got more than 10 minutes, there’s a 45-minute video here) with several other artists who worked on the piece, including Phillip Huber, who created its puppets (and those for another notorious work, Spike Jonze’s film Being John Malkovich), and members of the punk duo Japanther (who return to play at the opening-day talk with Graham on October 31).

Two-way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth — this Walker-commissioned pavilion is on permanent display in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and is probably second only to Spoonbridge and Cherry in terms of popularity.

The annual Student Open House on October 29 — includes this year a preview of Dan Graham: Beyond, and should be a spectacle of its own sort, as it’s inspired by Graham’s passion for rock and punk (see Japanther, above).

Get a closer look at other Graham works in the Walker collection on ArtsConnectEd.org, including his groundbreaking Homes for America project from the 60s. And on mnartists.org, you can get a hint of Graham’s influence locally with this description of a project at the Art of This gallery last month, and an interview with artist Aaron van Dyke, who runs a gallery out of his St. Paul house.