Dan Graham, a contrarian polymath finest recognized, regardless of his protests, as a conceptual artist, died on Feb. 19 in Manhattan. He was 79.
His spouse, Mieko Meguro Graham, confirmed the dying however declined to present a trigger.
Although he had his issues with Conceptual Artwork as a class, Mr. Graham’s resistance to labeling went deeper. In a prolific profession that took in genres as numerous as sculpture, structure and “puppet rock opera,” and included pioneering works of video and efficiency artwork in addition to criticism and educating, he usually recognized himself not as an artist however as a author. Typically he added that his actual ardour, in any case, was rock music.
However contradiction was additionally a philosophical throughline of his in any other case disparate undertakings.
Whether or not he was arguing, in an early piece of criticism, that Dean Martin’s tv selection present was extra self conscious than it regarded; or serving to to show Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon from an artwork pupil right into a musician by drafting her right into a efficiency piece referred to as “All-Woman Band: Identification Projection”; or standing between a mirrored wall and a seated viewers, lecturing them about what they have been , Mr. Graham at all times aimed to unsettle.
His finest recognized work was a decades-long sequence of large-scale architectural installations he referred to as “pavilions” — sinuous cubicles of semi-reflective glass that wrapped his preoccupations with spectacle in an interesting sculptural language derived from Minimalism.
Coming into a pavilion, or just observing it, you might need seen your self mirrored towards the room past, undermining a way of the place, and even who, you have been. Or else, considering your self as a funhouse-mirror distortion, you might need begun questioning simply how a lot of your actuality was decided by your architectural atmosphere. Both method, you have been sure to stroll away considering otherwise.
Mr. Graham’s entry into the artwork world was virtually unintentional. A voracious reader and snapshot photographer however an detached pupil, he moved to New York after ending highschool and, in 1964, based the John Daniels Gallery on Manhattan’s Higher East Aspect with two associates.
“I used to be what they name a slacker,” he recalled in an Interview magazine article by the artist Michael Smith in 2017. “I had no job, and I had two associates who wished to social climb as a result of they have been studying Esquire journal, and a gallery regarded like a cool place to social climb.”
The gallery lasted lower than a yr, with out gross sales. However earlier than it closed, it had proven Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, given Sol LeWitt his first solo present, and launched Mr. Graham — who had till then been extra excited about science fiction and philosophy — into the very coronary heart of the New York artwork scene.
When he began making artwork himself, he eschewed standard mediums, submitting textual content items and photograph spreads to magazines as an alternative. This, he would counsel, was a method of contesting the notion of creative worth — his artwork can be disposable. Later touchstones included “Lax/Chill out,” a spoken phrase efficiency impressed by Reichian remedy, and “Rock My Faith,” a careening, rough-edged video documentary that connects 18th-century Shaker circle dancing to hard-core punk whereas psychoanalyzing the hippie motion.
“He’s deeply into astrology,” Mr. Smith wrote within the Interview article, nodding to the issue of summing up a observe, and a character, outlined by its frenetic rush of psychological associations. “He’s an Aries, indicating spontaneity. He’s additionally into clichés, structure, music, artwork, puppets, mixtapes, and TV comedy.”
Ultimately, Mr. Graham discovered an infinite quantity of success for a self-described slacker. He had a retrospective on the Whitney Museum of American Artwork in 2009, and his “Rooftop Urban Park Project,” a multipart pavilion overshadowed by picket water tanks, sat on prime of the Dia Basis’s constructing in Decrease Manhattan all through the Nineties.
“Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout” was put in on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in 2014, immediately turning into the centerpiece of an untold variety of selfies, and his construction “Little one’s Play” was displayed within the Museum of Fashionable Artwork’s sculpture backyard in 2017.
Success was no cause to cease tweaking his viewers, although. At a celebration for the MoMA set up, in accordance with a former assistant, Mr. Graham grabbed a microphone and commenced speaking about what he referred to as his “favourite museum” — the Walker Artwork Heart in Minneapolis.
He was born Daniel Harry Ginsberg on March 31, 1942, in Urbana, Unwell., the place his father, Emanuel Ginsberg, earned a Ph.D. in natural chemistry on the College of Illinois. His mom, Bess (Freedman) Ginsberg, was an educator who ran preschools.
In 1944, after making use of for greater than 100 jobs with out getting an interview, Emanuel Ginsberg modified his title to David E. Graham and was employed by Normal Aniline and Movie. His spouse and youngsters grew to become Grahams, too.
Starting in his teenagers, Dan was beset by psychological troubles variously identified, and medicated, as schizophrenia, melancholy or manic melancholy. No matter it was, in accordance with his youthful brother, Andrew, it continued no less than by way of his 60s, making life exhausting for Mr. Graham and for the individuals who cherished him.
“He was a tough individual to have in your life,” mentioned Ann Riesenberg, his sister-in-law. “However what I’m left with is that this gratitude to have had somebody who inspired me to be all that I used to be, no matter that was.”
Along with his spouse and brother, Mr. Graham is survived by a son, Max Ward-Graham. His sister, Deborah Graham Durant, died in 2015.
Mr. Graham was a extensively beloved determine within the artwork world, recognized not simply as a eager critic with a provocative humorousness but additionally as a radically beneficiant pal.
“I’d say that he had some type of intuition for when issues have been actually unhealthy in individuals’s life,” mentioned the artist Antoine Catala, who labored for Mr. Graham for a few years within the early 2000s, “and he would present up for them.”