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Dan Graham Rocks

A contemporary artist with a taste for subversion
Juno Grace, Lee Warshawsky Fellow
August 22, 2016

Design for Showing Videos, 2014. Dan Graham (American, born 1942). Reflective glass, stainless steel; 236.2 x 576.6 x 718.8 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Local radio disc jockey Alan Freed first coined the phrase “rock and roll” in 1951, marking Cleveland as the birthplace of rock music. Six decades later, Transformer Station is connecting past and present through the work of renowned American contemporary artist Dan Graham, whose longtime interest in the genre has shown throughout his prolific career.

Graham shares with rock music a taste for subversion and a questioning of societal norms. Once a gallery owner himself, he published his artwork in magazines in the guise of advertisements in order to deconstruct the nature of viewing art in a gallery context. The dual nature of his early work as art and advert set the precedent for the rest of his career. Since then, Graham has branched off into other mediums that combine photography, video, sculpture, or architecture. For example, his iconic Rock My Religion (1982–84) is a montage of prerecorded footage and performances that draws upon Patti Smith, “the Mary Magdalene of rock,” as a parallel to the historical Shaker foremother Ann Lee. By juxtaposing fanatic behavior at rock concerts with the religious fervor of the Shakers, the filmic essay compares the performances of an unlikely duo as part of a counterculture in response to the constraints of the times.

Rock music, in all of its stylistic heterogeneity, is the perfect platform for Graham’s multimodal approach to contemporary art. In addition to several earlier works, Dan Graham/Rocks includes Rock My Religion as well as one of Graham’s signature “pavilions.” These architectural sculptures made of mirror-glass project reflections back onto the viewer and create a space for acting, where spectators can see themselves seeing, or being seen. Make plans to visit this unique exhibition where you’ll play an integral role as viewer and performer, all part of a rockin’ contemporary art experience.  

Cleveland Art, September/October 2016