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Dan Graham

American Sculptor, Photographer, Performance, Installation, and Video Artist

Dan Graham Photo

Born: 1942 - Urbana, Illinois

"I like to get into new areas, and I like them to be in a borderline situation, rather than definitively one thing."

Summary of Dan Graham

Dan Graham has achieved widespread recognition for the way in which his work combines a range of media and reference points in order to explore post-war society and relationships between people and places. Graham's early work was influenced by the Minimalist use of industrial aesthetics and early Conceptual Art's emphasis on the written word, bridging the two movements through formal aesthetics that invited, rather than repelled, engagement with the wider world. Graham began his career publishing work in magazines, but became known for his video collages, performance pieces and pavilions, which encourage open-ended explorations of human interaction, often drawing upon the mirror as a device for considering ego, surveillance and play. He has always drawn extensively from sources outside the art world, including rock music, literature and architecture, and in recent years has expanded his practice to consider the role of landscape in relation to the human body and the urban grid.

Key Ideas

Dan Graham's pavilions, for which he is best known, played a crucial role in extending the formal aesthetic of Minimalism into Relational Aesthetics. These pavilions, like Minimalist objects, used industrial materials and offered no sign of the artist's hand, but were not removed from everyday life, instead forcing their audience to consider their body in relation to others and to their surroundings.
Dan Graham's work bridges the gap between intellectual and popular culture. His videos and performances combine different media which inform and strengthen one another, appealing both to the audience's intellect and desire to be entertained. His emphasis on amusement as an important role for art, along with the techniques he uses for drawing audiences into art works, played a significant role in the rise of video essays and immersive installations.
Through magazines, pavilions and performances, along with his position in the arts community, Graham played an important role in extending art beyond the gallery space. His work circumvents the traditional commodity status of art objects, detaching itself from the physical institution through circulation via publication or resisting resale through deep engagement with a particular location.
Dan Graham Photo

Dan Graham was born in Urbana, Illinois in 1942 to Jewish-American parents. His father was a scientist while his mother was an educational psychologist. The family moved, three years later, to Union County, New Jersey, a suburban setting which would influence Graham's later artistic practice. Graham was enchanted by television during the 1950s, watching shows such as Uncle Fred and Howdy Doody, fascinated by the role of the studio audience and relationships between spectators and performers. He also enjoyed building a telescope from a kit with his father and started an astrology club as a teenager, indicating an interest in vision and social relationships that would continue across his adult life.

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