Golden Graham

Los Angeles

Left: Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Right: Artist Dan Graham with MoCA associate curator Bennett Simpson. (Photos: Stefanie Keenan)

“WELCOME TO LOS ANGELES. Welcome to LA. None of the above,” began Paul McCarthy, introducing his friend and colleague Dan Graham at a press conference the Friday before last, the kickoff to a weekend plump with events celebrating the first stop of Graham’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The cultural press corps was assembled, pens and BlackBerrys in hand, to welcome a couple of firsts: the first US retrospective for Graham and also the first major opening following the narrowly averted financial ruin of MoCA, recently saved by unlikely white knight Eli Broad. Graham, though, is interested in a sunnier side of the City of Angels. “Los Angeles art has been very inspirational to me,” he said, wearing a jaunty Hawaiian shirt. “You have very good vibes here.”

He was right. Despite all the troubles, good vibes did permeate that Valentine’s Day weekend. Over the next three days, there was a lot of love for Graham and the museum. Artist Raymond Pettibon DJed the first of two celebratory events on Friday night, which held an array of friends and well-wishers including artist Allen Ruppersberg and dealer Emi Fontana, board members who hadn’t jumped ship, and the Broads, who received an early walk-through with the exhibition’s curators, MoCA’s Bennett Simpson and the Whitney’s Chrissie Iles. (After MoCA, “Dan Graham: Beyond” heads to the Whitney and then the Walker in Minneapolis.)

At first glance, the exhibition seems cold: the pavilions of cool glass and aluminum, the walls lined with smallish, text-heavy documents, and the sheer mass of videos. But glance too quickly and you might overlook the massive curtained room hiding Rock My Religion, 1982–1984, or the ludic games in the phenomenological pavilions, or a “lipstick parlor” with cosmetics provided by the museum.

Left: Artist Thomas Lawson, dean of CalArts school of art. Right: Musician Mike Watt with artist Raymond Pettibon. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

The following night at the more public members opening, I kept sneaking downstairs, hoping to catch couples in flagrante delicto in the center of the glimmering glass Heart Pavilion. Sadly, no one seemed in the spirit. On the way back to the courtyard to hear Tom Watson and Thurston Moore’s DJ set, I ran into Simpson and his colleague Ann Goldstein. I asked them about the exhibition’s title.

“Dan wanted a cool, California title.” Simpson said. ”He was in a record store in Venice when he saw a poster for Beyoncé, and it hit him—Beyond.”

“I didn’t know that story,” Goldstein laughed. “He sees his work reflected in everything.”

Graham’s actual presence at the public opening was quite brief. The headlining concert featuring Moore and Kim Gordon started at 10 PM; Graham departed around 9:30. Shortly after Graham left, the temperature dropped into the forties—low in Los Angeles, even in February—though few of the more than three thousand people in attendance were deterred. After MoCA’s recent financial roller coaster, which was accompanied by director Jeremy Strick’s resignation and, in recent weeks, the sacking of roughly 20 percent of the staff, the museum somehow felt normal again, as if its mission wasn’t to stagger through punches but to present important exhibitions of contemporary art to an appreciative public.

Left: Trulee Hall with artist Mike Kelley. Right: Artist Jennifer West. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

As Moore and Gordon climbed the stage, the public rippled with appreciation. Here, as they always do when performing, Moore and Gordon managed to look seriously glum; nary a smile crossed their lips as they ground out their set to the flashes of dozens of cameras. But there was something oddly soothing to the discord, and the crowd pulsated along to Moore’s sometimes violent guitar work.

The following day I set off for a scheduled talk featuring Graham with Moore and Gordon. The conversation meandered; the highlight of the talk was simply Graham being Graham. Moore or Gordon would ask him some inane question such as “Where would you like to live in Los Angeles?” He’d start off somewhere around Echo Park and then divagate, swinging from Frankie Valli to the musical Jersey Boys to Sol LeWitt’s cat to when Moore lived beneath Graham to the music of Minor Threat and on. After one of Graham’s curious streams of consciousness, he paused, looked up at the audience, and, rubbing the back of his head, said:

“Art’s pretty great, isn’t it?”

Left: Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan) Right: Karen McCarthy and Paul McCarthy. (Photo: Andrew Berardini)

Left: Dealers David Kordansky and Steve Hanson. Right: LAXART curator Aram Moshayedi and artist Elad Lassry. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)