The Roof Garden Commission
Dan Graham with Günther Vogt
April 29–November 2, 2014
This installation by Dan Graham (born 1942, Urbana, Illinois) is the second in a new series of site-specific commissions for the Museum's Roof Garden. Comprising curves of steel and two-way mirrored glass set between ivy hedgerows, Graham's structure is part garden maze, part modernist skyscraper facade. Viewers who enter the work are transformed into performers; in glimpsing their own reflections, they are also made acutely aware of the act of looking.
For the past fifty years Graham has engaged his interest in architecture and the way it structures public space through a multidisciplinary practice encompassing writing, photography, video, performance, and—beginning in the 1970s—sculptural environments of mirrored glass and metal. He calls these hybrid structures "pavilions" after the ornamental buildings that decorate seventeenth- and eighteenth-century formal gardens—architectural fantasies inspired by the ruins of classical antiquity. Graham's pavilions similarly invite romance or play, but their forms and materials have a more contemporary source: the gleaming glass facades of modern office towers. For the artist, the mirrored cladding of a corporate headquarters symbolizes economic power and sleek efficiency and also provides camouflage, reflecting the world around it as it shields what happens inside from prying eyes.
The artist's pavilions likewise respond to their specific sites. The Roof Garden, where the idyllic expanse of Central Park confronts the tall buildings of midtown Manhattan, is both of the city and at a certain remove from it. The evergreen plantings that edge the parapets also remind Graham of the shrubbery that often demarcates property lines in the New Jersey suburbs of his youth. His Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, set within a specially engineered terrain designed in collaboration with the Swiss landscape architect Günther Vogt (born 1957, Balzers, Liechtenstein), employs these multilayered references—palace gardens, public parks, contemporary corporate architecture, and the suburban lawn—as it engages the viewer in a historic and complex mirror play.
Concurrent with The Roof Garden Commission: Dan Graham with Günther Vogt, several projects by the artist are on view on the Museum's second floor in galleries 917 and 918. The works on view include videos, photographs, and the pavilion Triangular Solid with Circular Cut-Outs, Variation K (2011–14). Triangular Solid with Circular Cut-Outs uses the familiar two-way mirrored glass of the skyscraper for an intimate, gazebo-type structure. Its form relates to both the moon gates of traditional Chinese gardens—round apertures designed to frame a particular view—and the mirrored walls of Rococo pavilions that reflect and amplify the effects of sunlight or candlelight. One side of the triangular glass pavilion Double Exposure—Graham's 1995 proposal for an exhibition in Germany (represented here by a model), which was installed at the Serralves Museum in Portugal in 2003—is a color transparency of the landscape directly outside. From inside the pavilion, the viewer confronts a curious doubling of vision that references, in part, nineteenth-century panoramas and other precursors of modern cinema.
The videos on view explore other pavilions, and the photographs—mainly snapshots taken when Graham revisited the New Jersey suburbs of his youth—capture the extraordinary breadth of the artist's interests.
This creatively designed publication provides an insightful study of Graham's work.