Not Really So Beyond As All That

An earlier post made fun of the Whitney Museum's blurb for its Dan Graham show catalog:

"Dan Graham has always pointed beyond in his work: beyond the art object, beyond the studio, beyond the medium, beyond the gallery, beyond the self. Beyond all these categories and into the realm of the social, the public, the democratic, the mass produced, the architectural, the anarchic, and the humorous."

In response I said:

The pounding rhythm and faulty parallelism amuse, but also epitomize the kind of priestly incantation spoken or sung over contemporary art. We must be assured and soothed that every market player in the art world is in fact anti-object and anti-gallery, a selfless Walt Whitman-like figure that embraces, nay, merges, with the democratic mass, doing good works over a lifetime of artistic philanthropy.

Having now seen the show it can be officially declared what a crock all those "beyonds" are. It's a fine, thoughtful exhibit but it's about as "beyond" as a prison inmate who rarely leaves his cell and instead creates a body of work imagining all the permutations of his cell walls and his thoughts about those walls. Yes, yes, Graham photographed some tract houses in New Jersey in the '60s, but the show is centered around a series of gallery-like spaces with 1- and 2-way mirrors and cameras that seem more like devices for surveillance and stalking of gallery visitors than eyes exploring the world outside ("I'm looking at this woman through my viewfinder and describing to you her nude body while she watches me on TV and describes mine"). Graham's show is a meditation on wall labels, documentation of artwork, an artist talking about his own art, and the architecture of galleries and sculpture gardens. There are exceptions, such as Graham's documentary films about rock and roll, but one of the more telling statements about the show's commitment to the outside world is Graham's written observation, in a text piece listing examples of art and architecture he likes, that he admires Larry Bell's use of plexiglas but wishes it didn't have any color. Tacky colored plexiglas is precisely what the world beyond the art world looks like.