Dan Graham, whose experiments in perception earned him a place as one of the most influential artists to emerge from the 1960s, died on February 19 at the age of seventy-nine. He is survived by his wife, the artist and gallerist Mieko Meguro. Influenced by Walter Benjamin, Jean-Paul Sartre, Margaret Mead, Jean-Luc Godard, Leslie Fiedler, rock ’n’ roll, Jewish humor, Robert Venturi, and multifarious manifestations of popular culture, Graham identified with no artistic movement or creed, though his oeuvre—a genre-defying mix of video, installation, photography, architecture, and text—would become entwined with the legacies of Minimalism, Conceptualism, and post-Minimalism.
An astrology-obsessed Aries, Graham was born in 1942 in Urbana, Illinois, and was raised in Winfield, New Jersey. A high-school dropout with literary aspirations, he moved across the Hudson to New York and, in 1964, founded the John Daniels Gallery, a short-lived endeavor that staged Sol LeWitt’s first exhibition. When the venue closed in 1965, Graham moved back to New Jersey and began taking the photographs of suburban track housing that would come to comprise Homes for America, 1966–67, one of the artist’s notable magazine pieces. Published in Arts Magazine, Homes for America commented on the similarities between cookie-cutter single family homes and the early work of Donald Judd while parodying contemporary editorial formats. Around the same time, Graham began to write rock criticism and art reviews which flowed from his understanding of “art as a social sign.” Graham’s writings are compiled into various collections, including the just-published More Nuggets or Evolution of the Museum and Other New Writings (RATSTAR, 2021).
In the late ’60s, Graham began to use sound, video, mirrors, performance, and feedback to create art about, in his own words, “spectators observing themselves as they’re observed by other people.” For the Thirty-Seventh Venice Biennial in 1976, he used a large piece of soundproof glass to partition a room into halves, one of which had a mirror for a back wall. Audience members were instructed to remain in the room for half an hour, watching themselves being watched. That piece, Public Space/Two Audiences, was one of Graham’s first architectural works. It led him to further explorations of domestic and office spaces and directly prefigures the artist’s famous “pavilion” works of the next four decades. Graham would go on to participate two more times the Venice Biennale, thrice at the Whitney Biennial, four times in Documenta, and twice in Skulptur Projekte Münster. In 2009, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art hosted “Dan Graham: Beyond,” his first retrospective in the United States.
In the 1980s, Graham became a kind of doyen of New York’s punk and experimental music scenes, collaborating with Sonic Youth and befriending the likes of Glenn Branca and Robert Longo. His essay film Rock My Religion, 1983–84, argues that rock ’n’ roll’s genealogy began in early American religious cults like the Shakers and continues through the postwar period as an ecstatic yet mediated experience of sexualized frenzy. Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty, 2004, a rock-opera puppet show made in collaboration with Tony Oursler and Rodney Graham, was soundtracked live by the band Japanther.
Graham’s pavilions—human-scale structures of glass, steel, and mirrors that draw from corporate architecture as well as the high modernism of Mies van der Rohe—dominated the latter half of his career, appearing on the rooftops of both Dia Chelsea’s first exhibition space (in 1991) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (in 2014). “The work is about time,” Graham once said of his pavilions. “Minimal art is static. My work has always been intersubjective.”