PRINT April 2022


Dan Graham (1942–2022)

R. H. Quaytman, iamb, Chapter 12 (Dan Graham), 2008, silk screen and gesso on wood, 20 × 32 3⁄8".

Thinking back on my thirty-year friendship with Dan Graham, I realize, only now, that entering his orbit was a lot like stepping into one of his glass pavilions. There was an outside and an inside, with a threshold between them that was optically but not physically permeable. As anyone who knew Dan will attest, he could deploy an intense focus toward his interlocutor that made it feel like he really saw you. He was a soothsayer, a reader of the signs and markers of our common life story. He had a way of getting at your deepest fears, laying them out like a cheap country-and-western song and thereby miraculously defusing them.

But then there was the other side of the glass—Dan’s thoughts about this landscape, the art world that we were entangled in. To be Dan’s friend, and to truly appreciate the pavilion, one needed a desire to learn how he himself interpreted these surroundings and their histories, concepts, temporalities. When I started working for Dan, in my early thirties, I had absorbed too many conflicting ideas about art and was having trouble trusting or believing any of them. Dan gave me a backbeat to march to as I pushed my work forward amid the overwhelming cacophony. I needed to find an artist with whom there was just no arguing, and I got that in spades. Arguing with Dan was always pointless. He couldn’t hear, after all; he was on the other side of the glass.

To enter conversation with Dan was to participate in a vibrant, all-encompassing cosmology that happened on occasion to line up with my dreams. Through him, I learned that it was necessary to invent an imaginary route. I trusted his steerage because of what guided it: a sturdy feminism and a World War II–era socialist populism that always charmed me. His proclamatory politics were based in a love and trust of the surface of things. His friends will laugh at memories of the messages he would occasionally leave on our answering machines, screaming New York Post–style headlines into the receiver. Dan’s mood could turn from concave to convex depending on whether his thinking communicated delight, humor, affection, and speculation or the inverse: impatience, anger, disdain, and gossip. To love and learn from Dan was to trust that his optics, distorting as they sometimes were, oriented us in a single direction, one that led away from elites and alienation and toward connection, toward play, toward, as the song goes, the sunny side of the street. 

R. H. Quaytman is an artist based in Guilford, Connecticut.