New York

Dan Graham, Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, 2014, steel, two-way mirrored glass, ivy. Installation view.

Dan Graham, Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, 2014, steel, two-way mirrored glass, ivy. Installation view.

Dan Graham

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dan Graham, Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, 2014, steel, two-way mirrored glass, ivy. Installation view.

Dan Graham is famously wide-ranging, working in film, performance, print, photography, and more, but his best-known pieces remain the pavilions that he began to develop in the late 1970s, steel-and-glass structures that shift in the viewer’s mind between sculpture to be looked at and architecture to be entered and moved through. These works are usually designed for specific places, and this year, working with the Swiss landscape architect Günther Vogt, Graham made one for the roof of the Met. Having hosted memorable shows—Doug and Mike Starn and Jeff Koons come to mind—this high outdoor space has become a summer destination for New Yorkers, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays, when the building stays open late. The Met has a bar on the roof, and the combination of drinks, a breeze, and evening views of both the summer show and Central Park is hard to beat on a warm city night.

Artforum reviewers, sadly, will rarely tell you whether or not a venue has a bar, but in the case of the Met’s roof, the social scene there is an active player in Graham’s piece. The glass of his pavilions is usually to some degree reflective and to some degree transparent, and often feeds us confusing, disorienting images of ourselves and of others around us. Meanwhile, the overall glass-and-steel structures that generate and frame those images evoke the modern office building. Because the pavilions set muddled, disembodied glimpses of ourselves within a stylistic echo of the corporate institution, they are often read as working to place us in relation to the large, impersonal economic forces that condition our lives and the society around us, in ways both obvious and subliminal. Indeed, when shown indoors in gallery settings, this may well be just what they do, or one of the things they do: The shaping atmosphere of the white cube asks us to experience them soberly and thoughtfully. (This was, in fact, my experience downstairs at the Met, where a small show of Graham’s work included a miniature pavilion, Triangular Solid with Circular Cut-Outs, Variation K, 2011–14.) The Met’s rooftop, though, proved a carnivalesque context for Graham, reminding us that another of his inspirations, besides those often attributed to him—Minimalism, Baroque art, the city grid, the garden folly, and so on—may well be the fun-house mirror.

Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout is an S-shaped curve of glass set between straight hedges of ivy to create two chambers, one open to the north, the other to the south. From each chamber the visitor looks into the other, but has to walk outside and around one of the hedges to reach it. Meanwhile, the curve of the glass, its blend of transparency and reflectiveness, and the changing light of the outdoor air create a fluid mix of images: People looking through the glass into the space opposite see both their own reflections and the people in the other chamber, with these images often combining with one another and also often a little distorted. Two people looking at each other through the glass might see his outline shrunken and contained within hers, or vice versa; or he might see his reflection more clearly than he sees her, or vice versa again. People’s bodies and faces superimpose and merge, and someone you see in the glass might equally be opposite you or behind you. And because the glass is curved—and not just curved but serpentine, complicating the picture—this play of reflection is always in flux, changing a little with every shift of the foot or of the light.

The result is a kind of dance in which visitors chase merrily from chamber to chamber, experimenting with how they look in each space. Whereas Graham’s pavilions sometimes prompt unease—the ambiguity between watcher and watched, for example, may lead to thoughts of surveillance—this one seems all play. The landscaping’s surprisingly springy carpet of artificial grass, and the fact that the pavilion is slightly elevated, so that in walking around it you have to navigate, drink in hand, a subtle but definite slope, only adds to the party mood. It is both odd and pleasant to see high-concept art like Graham’s get this kind of reception.

David Frankel