Since the 1970s, Dan Graham’s art and critical writings have provided new ways of looking at the cultural hallmarks of recent generations.
On Monday night at the School of Art, Graham spoke to an audience of more than 80 graduate and undergraduate students about his work, recalling experiences of both creating and critiquing art. The lecture focused on his sculptures that employ glass and two-way mirrors to create “impressionistic effects” on spectators, causing them to reflect on their emotions and interpersonal interactions.
Graham said his works have been influenced by his upbringing in suburban New Jersey. The strict boundaries between types of properties in the American suburban landscape, for instance, continue to influence Graham to emphasize borders in his art. “Two-Way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth,” a Graham piece located in Minneapolis, Minn., features borders that alternate in material construction between natural hedges and glass to create a maze.
“Hedges are important to me,” Graham said, adding that they signify the boundary between “private space and the outside.” Graham noted that the glass in “Two-Way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth” seems opaque from a distance but is transparent once the viewer approaches it.
Graham explained that he strives to create “intersubjective” work that emphasizes the idea of social connections playing a key role in shaping thought, rather than “minimal art.” Many of his “pavilions,” which allow the audience to step into an enclosed glass space, are placed in varied settings. “Two-Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube,” for instance, is located on a New York City rooftop. Through their incorporation of reflected surfaces, such structures encourage spectators to “see each other seeing themselves.”
The artist also acknowledged the significant impact of urban architecture on his work, while differentiating his style from the corporate, “reptilian” forms of city architecture in the 1970s.
“My work usually involves the materials of the city,” he said. “The city is very cinematic. Storefronts take the reflection of a person passing by and project it against the product in the window.”
Graham said he grew up with no formal art education after high school and largely taught himself how to create through reading and listening to music. He credited Jean-Paul Sartre with inspiring his early work and discussed his abiding love for rock music. This passion resulted in “Rock My Religion,” the one-hour video art production that explores commonalities between themes in rock music and religion for which Graham gained national fame in the 1980s.
While Graham’s numerous sculptures are a cornerstone of his artistic portfolio, he said he has increasingly turned to writing as he has gotten older.
In exploring the impact of his personal history on the development of his art, Graham discussed his struggles with mental illness.
“My work represents the borderline between psychadelic usage and borderline schizophrenia,” he explained.
Claudia Cortinez ART ’14 said she had expected to hear mostly about Graham’s sculpture work. Jonathan Peck ART ’14 said that Graham’s lecture lived up to his expectations.
“He seems to have an answer for everything,” Peck said. “The lecture was much richer and more philosophic than I expected, which was great to see given his non-academic background. Graham seems really entrenched in placing himself among other artists.”
Graham was born in Urbana, Ill. and lives and works in New York City.