Whitehot Magazine

March 2009, Dan Graham Retrospective @ MOCA

March 2009, Dan Graham Retrospective @ MOCA
Dan Graham, Homes for America, Courtesy MOCA, LA


Dan Graham at MOCA: a Hit-and-Miss and Beyond 
Dan Graham: Beyond held at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) focuses on the influential artist Dan Graham who helped pioneer Conceptual art, video and performance, and Minimalism within the past four decades. The exhibition examines Graham’s entire body of work featuring photographs; film and video; architectural models; interior and exterior Pavilions; conceptual work created for magazines; drawings; prints; and writings. Dan Graham: Beyond has been in the making for two years, and is the artist’s first U.S. retrospective, and to be honest, after seeing the show, I would have to respond “America, keep trying.” 
The odd thing about this exhibition is that there is truly nothing bad to say about it. On that note, there is really nothing good to say about it either. Dan Graham is such an important artist that a retrospective of his work containing examples from every era that he produced art should theoretically be a phenomenal experience where the viewer leaves with a comprehensive overview and understanding of the artist’s intentions, theories, contexts, philosophies, and aesthetic realizations. MOCA’s interpretation of this, however, is more so placing objects, installations, and videos into their large gallery spaces completely out of context with barely any descriptions or explanation of where Graham was coming from. 

Graham’s large glass, metal, and mirrored structures that the viewer can walk through transform both the body and the gallery into a bowing, curving morph of space that allows for interactivity between the two. These Pavilions which initially were commissioned for specific projects were created and manifested with the idea of combining art, architecture, space, and light.  The movement of viewers within and around them created differing atmospheres that transfigured the surroundings and spoke on the above elements.  Bringing them into MOCA, however nullified all contexts and instead produced a recontextualizion as purely art objects with no account of their intended purpose. 

Five gallery rooms contained either slide projectors or videos, including a darkened theatre for Graham’s famous Rock my Religion video, a seventy-minute film speaking on Rock and Roll as America’s religion. This video has been so seminal to the likes of Minimalism and Conceptual art that it would take up a page just to describe its aesthetic qualities let alone the meanings and theories that went behind it; and yet, MOCA says nothing about it. Another work, slides of Homes for America – images of apartment buildings photographed on Graham’s regular train ride from New York to New Jersey, rotated on a projector with conceptual text and photographs on surrounding walls containing lists with titles such as “like” or “dislike.” Why these were so important – the exhibition viewer will never know. The other three video galleries incorporated large reels that appeared to be from the 50s that were so loud, so large, and placed in the middle of the room so that literally the viewer has no place to stand or observe the actual art from.  

Other random works such as Graham’s skate park structures or documentation of his performances are strewn about MOCA as if there was no way of making the last two galleries fit cohesively together thematically, theoretically, chronologically, or even aesthetically. No account of the main and most important question, why is this important? can be found anywhere, and so the viewer is left to his/her own devices to understand this, as co-curator Bennett Simpson stated, “risk-taking and autonomous art” that has already been so recontextualized into the museological space, and yet completely stripped bare of its primary context that it lacks any context whatsoever. The only thing one will come out of Dan Graham: Beyond is that he is an artist important enough to be showcased at a major museum. 

Dan Graham: Beyond is on display at MOCA from February 15 – May 25, 2009 and will travel to the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY and the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis.


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Alexx Shaw for WM LA

Alexx Shaw is a freelance writer in LA.

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