DAN GRAHAM Interview by Sarah Rosenbaum-Kranson ...


Dan Graham has been a vital presence in the contemporary art world since the 1960s. Over almost half a century, he has seamlessly shifted among the roles of artist, writer, and curator. Though best known for the magazine piece “Homes for America” and his indoor and outdoor glass pavilions, Graham’s output has spanned video, film, performance art, photography, architecture, and musical theater, as well as drawings and prints. Throughout his career, he has investigated questions of public and private space, urban planning, and the individual. The first North American retrospective of the artist’s work, “Dan Graham: Beyond,” opened in February at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and will travel this summer to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and then in the fall to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Known for his intelligence, generosity, and humor, Graham makes for an ideal interview. I met the artist at his apartment on Spring Street in New York to discuss his work, and whatever else came to mind.

I was in and out of New York around 1962. Astounding Science Fiction. Rosenbaum-Kranson: I actually grew up in Summit. really down and out people..Sarah Rosenbaum-Kranson: When did you originally move to New York? DAN GRAHAM: I was born in Illinois. The people there at the time reminded me very much of the characters in Thomas Pynchon’s book. Winfield was like a housing project for shipbuilders. I think. but it’s along the river. the John Daniels Gallery. as a teenager. because of Bell Labs. and he lived in Mountainside. and they usually commute. and I had my gallery. I didn’t move until around ’63. who’s the editor of a big science fiction magazine. I really didn’t like the kind of people you’d find in Summit or Westfield. so a friend and I went to visit John Campbell. but I never went to college. I lived in the Lower East Side around East 10th and First Avenue. where all the scientists live because of Bell Laboratories. V. And I remember. about six miles from Westfield. near Linden. We moved there so I could get into college. Jr. I never really liked Westfield. from ’64 to ’65. I grew up in Winfield and then Westfield. I used to stay with friends who had apartments in New York. I was interested in science fiction. New Jersey. . although Summit has one thing that’s interesting—it’s near Mountainside. In other words. GRAHAM: But Summit and Westfield are horrible cities.

Flavin wanted to be like James Joyce. HOLMDEL. And. The artists then had very literary backgrounds.EERO SAARINEN. which published Lolita before Grove Press was in existence. NEW JERSEY Rosenbaum-Kranson: When did you move to Nolita? GRAHAM: Until twelve years ago. what happened in the 80s and 90s is that people went to art school and became career artists. I wanted to be a writer. It’s interesting because then it was a real slum. pretty much all the artists wanted to be writers. My downstairs neighbors were Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. of course. but now I found a huge new gallery on Eldridge Street. I think that in the 60s—and you can see this with Andy Warhol—you could do anything and call it art. I got Kim the place. between Broome and Grand. He was a supporter of Olympia Press. In the 60s. and you don’t get this when you read the critics. GRAHAM: No. but you don’t realize that he was very involved in pornography. Jeff Wall started writing . it had an amazing show of Ad Reinhardt’s sexual collages. between Hester and Grand. When I got into art. Everyone knows the cartoons. it was a very broad situation. called Woodward Gallery. 1962. BELL LABORATORIES. I lived on Eldridge Street. in a $450/month apartment. Rosenbaum-Kranson: Do you think that often happens—artists wanting to be writers? I’ve heard you speak a lot about artists wanting to be architects—that there is a certain hybridity or fluidity.

Homes for America (1966-67) is the key work. MoMA doesn’t own a piece. I never became well-known because I wrote about myself and other artists. I think. and they were very open-minded. So. his girlfriend. and everybody became specialists. so that’s the only thing that they write about.” because I wrote about him. who. in a recent interview with Benjamin Buchloh. so that he can have curators and critics write about him. but then recently. It hasn’t hurt his career. but he puts down Marcel Broodthaers and supports people who influenced him. that strategic idea took over. like Öyvind Fahlström and Paul Thek. Museums don’t buy my work. and there are works that are much more important than those in Homes for America. there seems to be a gap between criticism and collection. the second on Lee Bontecou. but I think it has hurt John Miller’s career. I think. I can’t imagine the discussion not including your work. And he also had three articles: one was on Yayoi Kusama. influenced him enormously. “Dan. John Miller. he said.because I was writing about artists. Rosenbaum-Kranson: From a critical perspective. And Mike Kelley is a very good writer. . Judd’s early writings were reviews. and the other about the nineteenth-century Kansas City plan. GRAHAM: People know about a few works. artists should never write about themselves or about other artists because the most important thing for an artist is to become famous. Like Buchloh says. said. Rosenbaum-Kranson: Do you think that artists should go back to writing more about their work? GRAHAM: We have one artist who is. People don’t realize that John’s work is very good. but people don’t even look at them. I did magazine pages three years before Conceptual Art. “Dan Graham is not an artist. in the 80s and 90s. And actually Carl Andre.” So. a great artist and a great writer. about eight years ago.


Flavin’s best works were in spaces where there was a window. A lot of my pavilions still come from Mangold’s paintings. And also. I’m not interested in cynical humor. He was actually Joseph Kosuth’s teacher. . Lichtenstein’s a conservative. Rosenbaum-Kranson: When you were starting to develop your work. artificial light. I’m not a fan of Maurizio Cattelan— I think it’s too 90s cynical. And. whom I showed with my gallery. Rosenbaum-Kranson: I think that there’s a way to incorporate humor while still having something important to say—the two don’t negate each other. realizes that it’s arcadian. the parody of the think-piece that Esquire used to have critiquing the suburbs. LeWitt. I was reading French novels. in terms of the past. So I think you can be politically subversive through humor. For example. I also think that Lichtenstein’s work is really misunderstood. Even Flavin had a kind of nasty humor. some kinds of humor I don’t like. Robert Mangold. when I was asked to do the Star of David for this castle. so you could see an afterimage afterwards. Certainly Oldenburg’s work is incredibly funny. That probably comes out of the fact that I wanted to get away from Minimalist art and the idea of the immediate present. Kosuth used to stalk me for three years. at first. and Tom Crow. so I thought. But then. that I’m an Aries. GRAHAM: Let’s bring in the humor thing. if you wanted to do this astrologically. who was actually also Flavin’s hero. If anything. My parents were secular Jews. but there is humor there. “Homes for America” does get cited most frequently. why not do a water pavilion which is also a Star of David?—and also you can walk on the water as Jesus Christ did. it had a very big influence on me. that old Nazi. When Buchloh interviewed me. and Michel Butor was very important because he showed the labyrinth of the city and of the city plan. I would say Frederick Church and Albert Bierstadt. where Rainer used blood on the cross. I didn’t want to do it because Kurt Waldheim was president of Austria. I find that Jewish stand-up comedy becomes very important. he said. And the Yin/Yang (1997-98) is kind of a parody of New Age Bill Viola. in the moat area of the castle. I said that Lichtenstein was important because his work had some humor. but he doesn’t understand that it’s a kind of suburban arcadia.” Sol said his grids were jungle gyms for his cats. I think. the writings of Judd. but that might be an old Jewish trick. in other words. Flavin’s birthday is the day after mine. Although it also could be. no. which is something that one can feel quite strongly in your glass pavilions—the play between natural light. or if they’re indoors. And I wrote an article about Sol LeWitt called “Sol’s Humor. And then I saw the Arnulf Rainer Museum. and I think that somehow the instantaneousness of light was very important. the person who first discovered my work. and actually. Rosenbaum-Kranson: One of the things that seems like a common denominator among a number of those artists is the importance of light to the work. and he got very involved in the Conceptual Art movement. It’s just my nature to be fairly idealistic about things. So Buchloh misrepresents “Homes for America” or misunderstands it. And Gerhard Richter told me that Lichtenstein was his big hero. Rosenbaum-Kranson: I’m really interested in the way your work relates to play and to humor. So he’s taking Lichtenstein literally. he always said that he was showing the fascism in the media to call attention to it. but in doing a lot of lecturing and teaching. GRAHAM: Actually. GRAHAM: What people misunderstood was that the work was not an attack on Minimalist art at all— that’s what Buchloh thinks: it was basically flat-footed humor. although I deal with the light changing gradually in time. and I couldn’t get rid of him. I tend to be an idealist. Pleasant” by the Kinks. and I see Lichtenstein like the Ramones. I was on the edge of the suburbs. who were some of the important influences on you. it comes more from “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles and “Mr. Lichtenstein’s humor’s a bit academic because he was an academic.Rosenbaum-Kranson: Coming from an academic background. or that continue to be important for you? GRAHAM: Flavin. interior and exterior. I learned a lot from Oldenberg and his monuments because there’s a lot of parody there. Most of the great art that I admire has humor. his best friend was Lawrence Weiner. GRAHAM: Well.

Terry Riley. MAHOGANY. CUSHIONS Rosenbaum-Kranson: Can you elaborate a bit on duration and time delay in your work GRAHAM: For my retrospective catalogue for the LA MoCA show. DAN GRAHAM. like the one at LA MoCA and then the Whitney and the Walker. people redistribute what they’re looking at. Public Space/Two Audiences (1976). Around the same time. who says that when he first saw the Venice Biennale piece. which was very much what Minimalist art was dealing with. many artists wanted to break with the idea of an instantaneous present time. there’s an interview with Rodney Graham. 1986. Rosenbaum-Kranson: When you do a retrospective. and then duration became very important.Through drug culture. THREE LINKED CUBES/INTERIOR DESIGN FOR SHAPE SHOWING VIDEOS. and Steve Reich—the idea of the duration became more important. MIRRORED GLASS. how do you deal with your own personal history and the question of looking back to the past? . I became interested in historical memory through Walter Benjamin. the early 70s. but I also think that marijuana was very important. he realized that it took place in time because as you move around. TELEVISIONS. and also through music—my interests in La Mont Young.

so that’s very engaging for teenagers. used to work for I. Rosenbaum-Kranson: You did the piece Two-Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube and Video Salon at the Dia Art Foundation in 1991. GRAHAM: Rossi made that the symbol of New York. and there are benches for old people. with “Homes for America. . who says that when he first saw the Venice Biennale piece. For the Whitney. how do you deal with your own personal history and the question of looking back to the past? GRAHAM: When I do a show. I was going to have six pavilions at the Bronx Botanical Gardens—Tom Eccles set that up— but then they turned me down. New York has obviously been your home for the past forty-plus years. Around the same time. M. you can lie down on the floor. And of course. There are very few things that work indoors. and there are benches for old people. but I also think that marijuana was very important. and also. I think that the Dia piece was about New York City but also about New Jersey because you can see across the Hudson [from its rooftop site]. Rosenbaum-Kranson: Can you elaborate a bit on duration and time delay in your work GRAHAM: For my retrospective catalogue for the LA MoCA show. in 2002. I want to acquaint people with the just past. so that’s very engaging for teenagers. In [New] Design for Showing Videos (1995). which was very much what Minimalist art was dealing with. I had a real idea of the recent history of New York. I try to have a variety of work in different areas. so that’s where the cube comes from. I try to have a variety of work in different areas. even though we were designing them with architects. and I thought that the Hudson would be a kind of an amusement situation [like Coney Island]. so the corporate atrium was rather important. which is very engaging for children. many artists wanted to break with the idea of an instantaneous present time.GRAHAM: When I do a show. Is it different working here versus anywhere else? Are there any particular issues that interest you in this specific urban environment? GRAHAM: I did an article with an ex-girlfriend. so it was really about the city. Rosenbaum-Kranson: When you do a retrospective. In [New] Design for Showing Videos (1995). even though we were designing them with architects. Pei. he was also influenced by de Chirico. “Corporate Arcadias. which is very engaging for children. I wanted it to be a penthouse roof and a slum roof at the same time. like the one at LA MoCA and then the Whitney and the Walker. I want it to be enjoyed by everybody. For the Whitney. but they should all be engaging for the general public when I do the show. I used boardwalk surfacing because I had read Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas. Rosenbaum-Kranson: The water tower is one of my favorite urban figures. And the water tower I got from Aldo Rossi—the cylinder comes from the water tower. I had written “Corporate Arcadias. but they should all be engaging for the general public when I do the show.” and also LeWitt. people redistribute what they’re looking at. So one of the key works is the Girl’s Makeup Room (1998-2000).” about corporate atria. I was going to have six pavilions at the Bronx Botanical Gardens—Tom Eccles set that up— but then they turned me down. and then duration became very important. who had his first show at my gallery. you created Bisected Triangle. and then. It often takes many years before things get done. I knew that Battery Park City would be coming up the Hudson because I was following Venturi Scott Brown’s Westway Urban Design Project (1978-85). I became interested in historical memory through Walter Benjamin. he realized that it took place in time because as you move around. the city is a grid. It often takes many years before things get done. and the penthouse roof is like uptown. And also. There are very few things that work indoors.” my work was about the city plan. I was thinking about the idea of doing a 70s alternative space and an 80s corporate atrium. So what Sol was doing was like a Pei grid. I want it to be enjoyed by everybody. Public Space/Two Audiences (1976). Interior Curve through the Public Art Fund. you can lie down on the floor. I knew the slum roof from living on the Lower East Side. there’s an interview with Rodney Graham. So one of the key works is the Girl’s Makeup Room (1998-2000). the early 70s. There was nothing there then. I found a tool shed there and decided not to tear it down. so when I did the Dia piece.

As for my interest in shopping malls and shopping situations. and also. 1991. So. Could you discuss your use of glass and the idea of recuperating things that are old or seen as obsolete? GRAHAM: The use of glass didn’t come from Benjamin’s Arcades Project. TWO-WAY MIRROR CYLINDERI INSIDE CUBE. which you walked between. especially with your use of glass and his writings on the Parisian arcades. STAINLESS STEEL Rosenbaum-Kranson: You mentioned Walter Benjamin earlier. I had a gallery in Brussels. [I was also influenced by] the ideas of the Bauhaus. at first. You’ve also mentioned the just past. I did an early video piece with glass office buildings. in the glass façade being changed by the two-way mirror glass. and I’m curious about connections to his work.DAN GRAHAM. all of the galleries there moved to shopping arcades. It basically just came from observing the city’s architecture. MIRRORED GLASS. so you were walking between the two storefront windows. WOOD. and at one point. So. from Robert Venturi. I did a piece with time delay and mirrors [in which] there were two showcase windows. I was anti-Mies van der Rohe because Venturi accused him of being a corporate architect. the pavilions came out of the fact that I couldn’t do time delays anymore because they . but in many ways. I was going against Mies. which is significant to Benjamin as well.

So. whom I’m working with. Everybody was always interested in another fashionable period— the neo-30s. and so. I like Itsuko Hasegawa. They have three Japanese architects [who designed the buildings in the Novartis Campus]: one is great. I am now close friends with and love Atelier Bow-Wow. And I now have a big hero from the nineteenth century: I love Georges Seurat. about Art Deco. In Spain.were done with analog video. in a park. Tadao Ando. Rosenbaum-Kranson: One of the things that’s interesting about your pavilion spaces is the way in which they’re so much about interior space. Rosenbaum-Kranson: What is the just past that you’re interested in right now? GRAHAM: I did a project in Basel for this big drug company. It makes fun of the Gehry a bit. in a certain way. Also. And in this way it becomes a bit like Impressionism. although his interest in the city. Günther Vogt. and I discovered the just past a bit later. I love Sverre Fehn. Novartis. got interested in the 30s. who did the Museum of Fruit in Yamanashi. Maki is very good.Illuminations came out around ’65 or ’66. So. the Norwegian architect—you probably know the Nordic Pavilion in the Venice Biennale (1962). You don’t live in a façade—you live inside a building. I deal with. he did the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. so I know there’s a fashion for that kind of work. Sejima’s is a rectilinear building. Paul McCarthy [on the other hand] did an amazing piece in which he redid Jeff Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles because Paul is interested in the just past. subconsciously. It’s a way of not dealing with reality. but in some ways. in my mind. and that distorts the Sejima building. and Sejima is really superficial. I realized that it’s more powerful in a way because we always reject the just past in favor of the neo-past that’s more fashionable. Fumihiko Maki. I think. Rosenbaum-Kranson: Who are some of your favorite architects right now? GRAHAM: Easy. I’m not an architect. very simple in the neo-minimalism of its architecture. for me. Instead of just being Hans Haacke-style anti-corporation. the real historical thing that I’m dealing with is Impressionism. he wrote an article. which is a very different approach from a lot of the skin architecture you see today. it’s subverting through creating a kind of heterotopic situation. and he’s doing one of the World Trade Center buildings. for an art magazine. Japan. Robert Smithson. middle. It’s a space where people lie down—inside and outside the pavilion. I knew that the Dia loved Jorge Pardo’s kind of neo-60s work better than they liked my work. and you get a very perverse space. among the older Japanese architects. It’s more to do with the working class. is a lightweight. although he’s almost retired. And the landscape architect whom I absolutely love. you can go in. and the consumerism of the city were all great. whatever comes in. the reality of the city. I remember. in the late 60s. In Europe. they have these kind of brand-name corporate architects. Günther Vogt—and it’s a place where people who are doing research and development and are going to college take their lunch. They also have a Frank Gehry building. Today we have these trademark façades. the neo-50s—and of course. . crossing over it is a slight curved element. My piece is one pane of two-way mirrored glass. GRAHAM: I also like the way that people walk around the piece because of where I put it—in a park by a very good landscape architect. but his other work is even better. who shows the spectators in circuses as spectators. which is flat. and upper-middle class people at leisure. I like Carmen Pinós. and it’s adjacent to the Kazuyo Sejima building. Basically it’s moving in time because most of the architecture is [comprised of] very static corporate trademark monuments. and it’s also a bit like Bruce Nauman because where it intersects. this is a corporate piece that I think actually works. My work is not aristocratic. or monuments to the trademark architect. the other. it didn’t come from Benjamin. historically speaking. So. who was very involved with fashion.

1996. the best architecture. though I haven’t been there in a long time. it’s like a suburban Versailles. And of course New York is great for people from Europe.ITSUKO HASEGAWA. which cities do you particularly like? GRAHAM: I’ve always loved Tokyo. it has the architecture of Álvaro Siza. it also has one of the best museums. . Everything about Belgium reminds me of New Jersey—it’s a highway culture. I finally got inside a John Lautner house—Lautner and R. I particularly like Brussels. I don’t drive. And another city I love is Porto—it’s beautiful. but I love Los Angeles. but it has the best artists. it’s kind of suburban. JAPAN Rosenbaum-Kranson: Given all of our talk about city plans and urban living.M. Schindler are incomparable. the Serralves Museum. In Europe. YAMANASHI. vacationing here or just coming over to see the city. And I can never live there. MUSEUM OF FRUIT. and I really enjoy being a host.

. are imitations of other classic apartment buildings in New York City. the interesting thing is that it’s an imitation. this neighborhood. because it’s such a wonderful mixture of old Italian women who are in rent-controlled buildings.Rosenbaum-Kranson: And just to round out the discussion of your interest in urban space and social space.   2009 . since New York has been your home for so long.. That place is a real treat. GRAHAM: Also. And the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. And that has to do with when it was developed. . All of the buildings there [were designed] during a historical restoration period. And actually. particularly when the garden is open. right? Rosenbaum-Kranson: It’s just based on a totally different model of the city from every other neighborhood in New York. So the buildings. where I live. right here. Places I don’t like—Battery Park City. where are some of your favorite spots in the city? GRAHAM: I like the IBM atrium. [Nolita]. which were undersold. It’s walled in. the Ceci-Cela café—one of the owners is an old hippie from Brittany who used to go to the Isle of Wight Festival as a teenager.

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