As one of contemporary art’s most influential figures, Dan Graham has been at the forefront of many of the most significant developments in art. His work addresses such notions as the dual role of the viewer (or audience) as both perceiver and perceived. To that end he employed performance art, mirrors, video art, architecture, and other media to examine aspects of the human gaze and the individual’s role in society.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Red Brick Art Museum Archive
Spanning 50 years of work, the exhibition “Greatest Hits”, Dan Graham’s comprehensive exhibition at Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing offers a complete overview of the artist’s practice and features over twenty new, recent and historical pieces. Graham first began exploring issues of the performative, exhibitionism, voyeurism, mirroring and the mundane in the early ‘60s and ‘70s. As a means of reaching the widest possible audience, the placement of artwork as adverts in newspapers and magazines became Graham’s preferred method of dissemination during this period. On display in China for the first time as part of this exhibition, these magazine projects challenged the idea of value by reducing art to a mere advert and marked Graham’s entry point into conceptual art. His analytical bent first came to attention with “Homes for America” (1966 – 67), a sequence of photos of suburban development in New Jersey, USA, accompanied by a text charting the economics of land use and the obsolescence of architecture and craftsmanship. His visionary embrace of performance art is also captured in the exhibition through videos of early performances. Single-channel time-based works, like “Lax/Relax” (1969) and “Performer / Audience / Mirror” (1969/1995), focus on the ability of art to be both interactive and reflective, incorporating wall-size mirrors, video cameras and audience participation. These historical pieces represent the artist’s pioneering use of video to document perception and illustrate his interest in the semiotics of film. Works like “Rock My Religion” (1981) and the rock and roll puppet show “Don’t Trust Anybody over 30” (2004) highlight the cultural importance of rock music and showcase Graham’s engagement with youth culture, as well as his innovative approach to cross-disciplinary collaboration. These works, which are screened in their entirety in the museum, sample the artist’s favourite music from different periods of history while taking into account the broader social contexts of the time through a focus on religion and politics. “Graham’s greatest hits”, a music playlist he has been compiling for the past several years, is available for visitors in a specially created room complete with soundproof booths and headphones. The exhibition also presents Graham’s ongoing investigation into the relationship between architectural environments and their inhabitants through a direct engagement with the museum’s architecture, conceived by Professor Dong Yugan of the Architecture Research Centre of Peking University. The red bricks used in the design of the building not only represent its foundational material but were also intended to encompass the history, tradition and tranquility of a Chinese garden, creating a hub of calmness.
Info: Red Brick Art Museum, Shunbai Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, Duration: 7/11/17-25/2/18, Days & Hours: Tue-Sun 10:00-17:30, www.redbrickartmuseum.com