dan graham terms of the ’70s and ’80s, putting both together. and i also used an existing tool...
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Carlos Brillembourg (Rail): I first encountered your work as an archi- tectural student at George Wittenborn & Company Books on Madison Avenue. I was searching through the stacks and I found your mimeographed manuscript, and was fascinated by it, and bought it. That must have been around 1972.
Dan Graham: What was the text on?
Rail: It was a mimeograph text. I can’t remember; it was about 50 pages long and it was on different schema and conceptual schemes that you were writing about. So it was a collection of these different things?
Graham: Yes. Published actually in the catalogue For Publication by the Otis Art Institute.
Rail: Oh, that’s been published later because that was self-published at that time. I think your interest is also to a great extent architecture—but it’s of course—you’re not making architecture.
Graham: Well, I think I make hybrids.
Rail: Yes. Graham: My pavilions are a kind of hybrid between sculpture and quasi-
Rail: Absolutely and that hybrid nature of your work is really what fascinates me and what can capture not only architecture, but also language and concept and many things are involved there. It’s a very complex work.
Graham: Well, the early work was for magazine pages, which meant that they were disposable. I was very interested because the artists I was showing with in my gallery like Sol LeWitt, after the gallery closed, he said since the work was made of wood it should be used for firewood. Dan Flavin said the fluorescent lights should go back to the hardware store. And Carl Andre said the bricks should go back where they came from. There was this whole idea of defeating monetary value in the air in the ’60s, so my idea was to put things in magazine pages where they’d be disposable with no value. And that was a hybrid also because the work was a combination of art criticism and essay: magazine page as an artwork.
Rail: Right. I remember from that period you published a conceptual schema for an ideal exhibition. You said you would be the curator of the exhibition. You would choose four artists, and then the text would be each artist talking about each other.
Graham: One of my least important pieces.
Rail: Anyway, let’s go on to my first encounter with the beautiful piece you did on top of the original Dia Foundation in Chelsea. What interested me is how this sculpture became an optical instrument. It was not only about reflection, but it was as much about the space made hyper-evident. Being that it was impossible to maintain a fixed perspective, it amplified the way the eye is in constant motion as it perceives the world. This was my reac- tion to your work. Is that close to what your intentions were in that piece?
Graham: Well, I think the intentions were to use the grid of New York City for the cube, which is Renaissance perspective, and the inside cylinder being Baroque. Because as the sky changes, the two-way mirror surfaces shift, being more or less transparent or reflective each moment, and people can see each other gazing on both sides. The work contrasts Renaissance perspective in the cube’s mirror Baroque cylinder situation, the Baroque means things are continually moving in time. And of course they are fundamentally optical. And maybe it goes back to the time when I was 13 and my father and I made a telescope.
Rail: Yes, it was very much like that. It was very much like an optical instrument as well as being this way of perceiving the city. Was it about the perception of the city?
Graham: Well, also I was taking a little bit from two architects. The cylinder was the same dimensions as the water tower, which Aldo Rossi said was the symbol of New York City. And the platform used boardwalk material. I used that for two reasons: One, because I thought Battery Park City would be coming up the Hudson. There was a proposal by Robert Venturi for the Westside Highway, and I related that to Coney Island references from Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York. But I was also looking at New York in terms of the ’70s and ’80s, putting both together. And I also used an existing tool shed as a coffee bar and video tech, the coffee bar came from the ’80s corporate atriums. The Dia Rooftop piece was a combination of a penthouse roof and a slum roof. So it’s very much about New York both in the ’70s and ’80s, as well as being an optical device.
Rail: So it was also very much of a social space. Graham: I wanted it to be used for performances because the corporate
atriums like the I.B.M. atrium always had performances inside on a kind of stage setting, surrounded by a rusticated, ecologically perfect interior. The videos I put in the coffee bar were videos that artists made of performances or music that were done during the ’70s, because when the piece went up in the late ’80s, people had forgotten about what happened in the last
Dan Graham with Carlos Brillembourg
Portrait of the artist. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.
Dan Graham, “Two Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube and Video Lounge,” 1981-1991. Dia Center for the Arts, New York. Courtesy Dan Graham Studio.
JULY/AUgUst 2O12 13ART
decade. One overlooked aspect of architecture is program. I wanted to change Dia’s post-Wagnerian sense of a quasi-meditative viewing space for the “genius” work of art to turn it into a more democratic experience.
Rail: Right. So it was grounded in its time to the late ’70s and the early ’80s? Graham: I wanted to combine the ’70s alternative space with the ’80s
corporate atriums. There was a reference to the ’70s landfill of present Battery Park City now superseded by a formally landscaped corporate park which as landfill was used in the ’70s for performances. You can actually see Battery Park City from the Dia rooftop. I wanted to change the Dia’s program. Dia’s program was to show great works of art by supposedly godlike artists in ideal spaces, in a kind of meditative genius situation. That’s Heiner Friedrich’s idea of Dia. I guess he identified with Ludwig II of the 19th century and was looking for a kind of Wagnerian experience, a Valhalla for the genius artist and work of art. I actually had a chance to show with Dia Foundation many years ago but declined because I realized I was a populist.
Rail: So this sparked your interest in landscape architecture and the history of landscape architecture?
Graham: Well actually, I got into landscape architecture because I was doing a lot of things through the ’80s French socialist regional art spaces, which were often set in gardens—these gardens were overlays of different historical periods. And of course, American art in the ’60s was all about instantaneous present time. But in the ’80s I was more interested actu- ally in the European situation of historical overlays, and then my work became more involved with time, contradicting minimal art which was about more fixed and instantaneous present time.
Rail: Right, so you’re more diachronic than synchronic. Graham: And there’s a very good interview I did with Rodney Graham
in the Beyond catalogue. He said when he saw my piece “Public Space/ Two Audiences” at the ’76 Venice Biennale, he realized it was about time because things take place in my work as the spectators move around and observe other members of the audience as they observe themselves.
Rail: But in that sense, your interpretation of the Renaissance garden as also a museum space and also as a public space, and perhaps the first one—
Graham: Well not very public because it was aristocratic.
Rail: Was it open to the public at one time? Graham: Probably, yes.
Rail: And certainly before the advent of museums, because all the col- lections were very private at that time. And so, in a way, the position of public art in Renaissance Florence, in the gardens and also in the squares, is really the beginning of the museum or the idea of public art.
Graham: Well, I was also contesting Daniel Buren, who has a fixed Cartesian idea of the museum not changing. I see the museum change in every decade.
Rail: Right, it’s in constant evolution? Graham: Of course.
Rail: And one of the first museums, the Prado Museum, is actually a taking over of a scientific space. It was not designed to be a museum. It was a science laboratory, and then it became a museum later.
Graham: In terms of Judd, my interest in Judd was in his early writings. Judd grew up as a teenager in New Jersey, where I grew up, but he’s originally from Kansas City. And he wrote a very early article about the Neoclassical city plan of Kansas City, and I’ve seen in his work a tension between Neoclassical and highway culture. In a way, I think he couldn’t really adapt to New Jersey highway culture, and Robert Smithson had the same idea—he was from New Jersey, but what he particularly liked about New Jersey was the pollution.
Rail: Well he liked the industrial landscape. Graham: Yes, in other words the pollution because that’s a little bit of the
19th century idea of ruins.
Rail: So he equated pollution and the romantic idea of ruins? Graham: Well also he was being devil’s advocate. Later, all artists became
ecological, but he liked William Burroughs’s idea of a polluted media- trash-wasteland and he was perhaps also influenced by T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.
Rail: That was Smithson being a romantic there, very much. But Judd was not a romantic in that sense.
Graham: I think the interesting thing also abo