Although he has exhibited widely throughout Europe and Asia, the New York-based artist Dan Graham is best known as a writer and art critic in the United States. This is odd, considering how entwined his life and artistic career have been with the development of contemporary art. In the '60s, he photographed New Jersey with Robert Smithson and gave Sol Lewitt one of his earliest gallery shows. In the '70s, he pursued video and performance art. And since then, he's worked to realize his fantasy of the artist as architect, creating public works everywhere from the Tokyo's Museum of Contemporary Art to the rooftop of New York City's Dia Center.
Much of Graham's video work has focused on pop music, both as disposable lexicon and vital cultural signifier. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Graham was once romantically linked to Laurie Anderson.) These pieces run the gamut from a collaborative performance with No Wave guitar god Glenn Branca to a grainy documentary of a 1983 Minor Threat performance at CBGB's, in which hardcore's violence and aggression become tribal ritual. Most notable, though, is the Sonic Youth-soundtracked Rock My Religion, which teases out conspicuous similarities between the functions of religion and rock music in contemporary society. It's a fascinating study that traces a direct lineage from the dervish-like dances of the Shaker sect to Patti Smith's feverish stage presence.
While Graham's videos question the opposition of performer and spectator, his architectural installations translate these meditations on perception into physical terms. Typically fabricated with glass and two-way mirrors, Graham's "pavilions" are equally rooted in Jacques Lacan's theory of the mirror phase and a Minimalist aesthetic sensibility. And as he once told an interviewer, they draw inspiration from both "anonymous urban spaces like bus shelters or telephone booths" and the 19th century gazebo and English gardens. As such, they are understated and deeply geometric structures, in which physical and sonic obstructions render viewing and interaction consciously experiential activities. Situated within city parks, they provocatively subvert spaces dedicated to recreation and community. Most importantly, these structures reveal Graham as consumed as ever with the gray area between objectivity and subjectivity, thereby consolidating a career-long preoccupation into stunning and meditative mini-monuments.