Since 1965, when he began producing the diagrams and photo-text magazine pieces that would become landmarks of Conceptual art, Dan Graham has made a series of swerves in his practice through video and film and performance to the architectural pavilions of the 1980s and beyond. This body of work—along with his early stint as a gallerist showing art by friends such as Carl Andre and Robert Smithson, and his energetic activities as a critic and speaker—has earned him near-legendary status. Artists today find a potent model in Graham’s integration of the conditions of exhibition and media reception into his own work; in his shape-shifting modus operandi; in his omnivorous cultural appetites. (His long-standing obsession with rock ’n’ roll, for instance, has given rise to extensive writings and the videos Minor Threat, 1983, and Rock My Religion, 1984.) And yet, due to these very qualities, institutions have had difficulty assimilating and presenting his work: MoCA’s forty-year survey is his first retrospective in the United States. Following on the heels of “Lawrence Weiner: As Far as the Eye Can see” (co-organized by MoCA and the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2007), the show thus marks another watershed in the American reception of Conceptually oriented practitioners whose projects, initiated in the ’60s, have long been influential among artists even as they were sidelined for decades on the US museum circuit.
Tracing the evolution of Graham’s practice, the exhibition aims to loosely unite the artist’s divergent production around “the changing relationship of individual to society as mirrored through American mass media and architecture at the end of the twentieth century,” per cocurators Chrissie Iles and Bennett Simpson. The show, comprising about one hundred works, will navigate vastly different kinds of visual and perceptual experiences, from the private space of the page to screen-based and time-based works to the emphatically public pavilions. The events program will include a panel on music and collaboration featuring Graham, Kim Gordon, and Thurston Moore, in addition to other talks and screenings. The catalogue, copublished with MIT Press, boasts essays by Rhea Anastas, Beatriz Colomina, Iles, and Simpson, among others, as well as two new interviews with Graham. The volume will be a substantial addition to the growing body of critical writing on the artist.
The show has not been unaffected by MoCA’s very public financial crisis; in a last-minute change, the museum announced in November that the retrospective would be installed in MoCA’s main Grand Avenue space, as cost-cutting moves prompted the six-month (and perhaps indefinite) closure of the Geffen Contemporary. For decades, Graham’s work has reflected on the public and institutional vicissitudes of artmaking; coming at such a fraught moment, the exhibition attests to MoCA’s own near-legendary support of critical and challenging art projects.