30.05.–12.07.2009

Dan Graham was born in 1942 in Urbana, Illinois and spent part of his childhood growing up in New Jersey. He has lived in New York since the early 1960s and counts among the most influential artists of his generation. From the outset, his artistic carrier was highly interdisciplinary in nature given his parallel activities as a music journalist, photographer, gallerist, art theoretician, and cultural critic. In 1964, for instance, he founded with friends the John Daniels Gallery, where the first exhibitions by Dan Flavin and Sol LeWitt among others were presented. After the gallery closed the following year Graham began to produce his own artistic work. He incorporated everything that he had gleaned from these various realms and activities directly into his art. As early as 1972 Dan Graham's work was presented at Documenta 5 in Kassel and, in 1976, at the Venice Biennale. Since the 1970s he has been consistently represented in nearly every important international exhibition.

Dan Graham's art focuses on complex questions concerning cultural ideologies and systemic principles - in contemplating these questions, reflecting upon the autonomy of the artwork takes on an important role. Of particular interest to him therefore are themes from the realm of pop culture including, among others, punk rock or the role of architecture and its significance in postmodern society. Urban surfaces, architectonic ornamentation, and, in general, discourse on matters pertaining to form are central to his ideas and always make reference to concrete everyday cultural aspects. Here the relationship of the subject to postmodern developments and to architecture also invariably plays a significant role. To a certain extent Graham's unrestrained and eclectic professional development provides a typical postmodern foundation for these undertakings. Arguably the best-known examples are Graham's minimalist steel and reflective glass pavilion-structures in which the viewer enters into a direct relationship with and engages the architectonic forms. But he also incorporates other mediums into his work, including performance, installation, film, photography, and theoretical examination. This has given rise to, in chronological order, conceptual works such as Schema (1965), or another important work, the photo- and text-based essay Homes for America (1966), which first appeared in periodicals and magazines. The aim of this and other similar works was to reveal the relationship between visibility and assessing the significance of art, and, at the same time, to undermine the market mechanisms associated with it. In early films such as Body Press (1970) and performances like Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975) Graham addresses notions - based on psychoanalysis - concerning the perception of space and time, and examines the awareness of physicality in media-related interaction. The first pavilion designs, such as Two Adjacent Pavilions (1978-82), were created at the end of the 1970s. A further important aspect to his work is the dialogue with music and pop culture, as evidenced by the video Rock My Religion (1982-82) or in collaborations with musicians like Glen Branca or Sonic Youth.

The exhibition at Portikus - Dan Graham Presents New Jersey - presents new photographs by Dan Graham, produced in collaboration with the architectural department faculty of Columbia University in New York, alongside photographs from the series Homes for America from 1966. The photo series Homes for America, shot already in the 1960s in the conscious style of an amateur or photojournalist with an inexpensive and handy Kodak camera, presents images of suburban homes, business parks, and urban fringe zones in New Jersey - places that depict the common and unspectacular, but also the uniform America. Graham notes: "I bought an Instamatic, the cheapest fixed-focus camera. At one point the gallery was running into debt and I had to leave and stay with my parents outside of New York. On the way, the train went through a low-income suburban area. It struck me that with no money I could still walk along the railroad and photograph what I saw. I was always interested in 'upper-' and 'lower-class' housing, because I grew up in a similar situation." In 1966 images from this series were first presented as a slide show in the context of the exhibition Projected Art at Finch College Museum of Art in New York. Graham adds: "Suburbia was discussed a lot in the early 1960s in magazines like Esquire. Sociologists like David Riesman talked about the 'lonely crowd', people who were conformist and unhappy in small suburban towns. In music this was reflected in the Kinks' song 'Mr Pleasant' and The Beatles' 'Nowhere Man'. As mentioned previously, Homes for America was published as a photographic essay - featuring textual commentary of image aspects - in the same year, initially in the American Arts Magazine and then in Esquire. With this decision Graham sought to disseminate his images as widely as possible, and, at the same time, to take a targeted stance against the monopoly of established institutions or galleries. With these works Graham captured the spirit of an era that was also visible in the works of his colleagues, and set in motion an environment for influencing one another in a sustained way: "In Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and in a certain sense also in Sol LeWitt, I saw an important manifestation of suburbia. So I wanted to draw attention to the current situation in the suburbs and noticed especially with Sol LeWitt that he alluded to the geographical network of the city. I also believe that the influence of Godard and Antonioni was very big."

The 2006 photo series is the result of a four-day excursion through New Jersey with faculty members from Columbia University's architecture department. For this series Dan Graham sought out, in part, the same locations in suburban New Jersey bordering New York City that appeared previously in his photographs from the 1960s.

A focus on seriality, standardization, and continuity are central to both the older and newer photographic works. The reoccurring interest in revaluing the everyday finds a precise form here in being tied to questions concerning the individual perception of social space and the production of space via social groups. Architecture is presented as the manifestation of social space in Graham's work. He uses the urban surface as an informational medium: "The context is very important. I wanted my piece to be about place as information which is present."

The exhibition design of Dan Graham Presents New Jersey reflects every notion of the serial and drifting through (sub)urban surroundings - a quality also visible in the themes addressed by the photo series as well as in the making of the photographs. Five white cubes differing minimally in dimension provide the framework for wandering through a spatial display that links an urban-like arrangement of representational forms with a view, inscribed in the photo series, of the paradoxes of difference and repetition.

Special thanks to Mark Wigley and Mark Wasiuta, Faculty of Architecture, Columbia University, New York and to Marian Goodman Gallery New York for their kind support.

Exhibition Design: Christian Teckert, Vienna.

Photos: Katrin Schilling