Dan Graham and Jeppe Hein

Galerie Johnen + Schöttle

The American artist Dan Graham has always been a source of fascination to Jeppe Hein, who is more than thirty years his junior. But Hein became a real fan in 1998 when, still an art student, he curated an exhibition in Copenhagen that included Graham’s unrealized 1997 design for the Liza Bruce boutique in London. The encounter with Graham and his seven glass sheets, which form a clouded two-way-mirror installation, remained a powerful influence. Now the artists have collaborated on a joint exhibition. Over the course of two years, they exchanged thoughts, designs, and sketches, sending faxes back and forth. The conversation had its ups and downs—“I am not enthusiastic about any of your last proposals,” writes Graham in one of the faxes displayed as documentation.

An exhibition was not the only thing to come out of the collaboration. Graham also constructed a pavilion, which he installed in the middle of Cologne, in front of the Hotel Barceló. Titled Water Play for Terrace, 2008, it stands on a 
lawn next to a playground. On
 a wooden platform, into which 
two zinc basins filled with water 
have been set, three segments 
rise up like a folding screen, 
their wooden frames alternately
 surrounding perforated sheets
 or two-way-mirror glass. Elegant and transparent, playful 
and diffractive, this pavilion is a
fitting response to the sobriety
 of the architecture of the multistory hotel as well as to the
 ludic playground.

In the gallery, the individual works of the two artists continually meet or avoid each other. These sight lines and perspectives, the reflections and refractions, and the self-reflexivity of this installation make the exhibition worthwhile—unspectacular, as is always the case with Graham, but at the same time not simply winsome, as is sometimes the case with Hein. Graham’s Pyramid, 1999, is a small model on a high white pedestal; made from two-way-mirror glass, it varies in its transparency according to the angle of the light or the blink of an eye. On the wall opposite, at eye level, Hein’s 360° Illusion I, 2007, is made of mirrors joined at right angles to one another. The structure revolves on its own axis: One could watch the changing reflections of the room and oneself for hours. Between the pyramid and the rotating mirrored object is Hein’s Field of Visions, 2005, a hexagonal peep box standing on high stilts. If you look into one of the holes, you see nothing, only a bottomless void.

What unites the two artists is humor. You laugh upon finding Hein’s Double Exposure, 2008, in the back room of the gallery—a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses bent so that their mirrored lenses are at right angles to one another. Graham’s wit comes into its own in his photographs, such as Megumi with her cat, Tokyo, Japan, 2003, a photo of a young Japanese girl who clings stiffly to her pet, or Self-Portrait in Penguin Exhibition, Antwerp Zoo, 2002. In comparison to his objects, Graham’s photographs are often wryly personal.

On view in the front room of the gallery, together with Graham’s design for the Liza Bruce boutique, was Hein’s neon text Please..., 2008, a bustle of white neon letters and their respective cables, which is not always easy to decode. Please do this or that, it enjoins; ENJOY RELAX STEAL DANCE TOUCH . . . But the word STEAL is crossed out, and so are SMOKE, TOUCH NEON, and others. Should one heed these requests? The decision is left to us. And this is precisely what continues to bind these two artists: The viewer’s response brings their objects to life.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Emily Speers Mears.