New York

Dan Graham

Cable Gallery

Dan Graham’s first New York show in many years seemed conceived as an ironic retrospective, one that evoked a strange familiarity in most viewers. Moving through it one encountered a project seen in this or that gallery, a model and documentary photographs for the glass pavilion reconstructed at Documenta in 1982, a videotape remembered from here or from there, and many texts and images published in the late ’60s in Arts magazine. As a whole, the exhibition encompassed models, wall works related to different video projects (Present Continuous Past(s), 1974, Public Space/Two Audiences, 1976), films and videotapes, published texts, and many color photographs of suburban tract houses—a roundelay of works, spreading some 20-odd years, that seemed heterogeneous but revealed a striking underlying relationship to one another.

The theme of these works, which configure mirroring, repetitions, and the staggered replication of images, seems to be a reflection on the contemporary self void of the trappings of liberal ideology. It is a self that is at once speculative and specular, self-regarding and caught within a play of images, for all of Graham’s work conveys the sense that we are inserted into a social order that is alien to ourselves. More pointedly, many of these pieces deal with surveillance: Graham’s use of double-sided mirror glass in his architectural models illuminates a situation in which the watcher is always in danger of being watched, just as his videotapes deal with the public dilemma of communally focused vision. What these works register is the erosion of our pristine “individual” perspective under the impositions of the (social) state.

Graham’s play with the relation between repetition and conformity is clearest in his photographs of suburban tract housing, taken between 1965 and 1978. In these images of community settings designed by speculators/developers in the postwar period, Graham inquires into the American illusion of choice. Although the homes appear in a range of styles (Cape Cod, ranch, split-level, colonial), configurations, and colors, they enforce, instead of follow, taste; since the houses were not built to satisfy the owners’ needs, Graham notes, the home “isn’t really possessible in the old sense.” Instead, the permutations of standardized units, floor plans, facades, and so forth give onto a world of mirrored likenesses, in which architecture imposes on its supposed users society’s patterns of identity. It is this specter—mass replication, as it is insidiously administered—that Graham’s refractive devices force us to confront.

Kate Linker