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Dan Graham’s New Jersey

Lars Müller Publishers


Dan Graham’s New Jersey Edited by Craig Buckley and Mark Wasiuta

Columbia Universit y GSAPP Lars Müller Publishers


Untitled, Paterson, New Jersey, 2006

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Untitled, Paterson, New Jersey, 2006

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This is the center of Paterson. It’s a store with living room furniture. The owner seemed to have a Jewish name, so it’s a Jewish storeowner selling kitsch, glamorous furniture to working-class Latin Americans with a certain taste for classic post-Cubism.

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Union City

Union City is just across the river. It’s along JFK Boulevard, which links Jersey City, Bayonne, and Union City. More Cuban Americans live there than anywhere except for Miami. It’s changed now. I think there are still some Italian ­Americans because Bayonne and Jersey City are Italian American. It has these houses with the kind of topiary that Italian American houses have. Outside they have statues. In other words, it’s very near Hoboken. Hoboken is now upscale, very expensive; it’s where Frank Sinatra, who is working class, comes from. All these cities ­eventually will become ideal places for people who can’t afford New York.

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It’s an Italian American area originally settled by Cuban ­Americans. Recently it’s become Indian and Vietnamese. I think people are buying houses there and commuting to the city; they’re kind of normal middle-class people. I had a cheap point-and-shoot camera that lets you zoom in on people who are overweight, typical American fast-food consumers, without them knowing you’re doing this. There’s this almost-retired couple in a kind of makeshift outside seating area alongside the highway having some Dunkin’ Donuts and smoking cigarettes. You’ll notice it’s not allowed to smoke cigarettes inside restaurants in America.

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Untitled, Union City, New Jersey, 2006

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The Reluctant Artist Mark Wigley

New Jersey is as close to New York as America ever gets, yet no journey seems longer than the one over or under the Hudson River. To move in either direction is always to go on safari. Each trip between the vertical metropolis and the horizontal suburbs only intensifies the sense of mutual strangeness. It is as if each journey moves the places even further apart. Dan Graham used the cheapest Instamatic camera to short-circuit the divide. His 1965 – 66 series of snapshots of suburban tract developments in New Jersey has been canonized after almost half a century. Any overview of twentieth­ century art or specialized analysis of minimalist, conceptual, or pop art now has to pass through these “ seminal, ” “ key, ” “ iconic, ” “ canonic, ” “ historic ” images with respect. The recent inclusion of a definitive set of the photographs in the Museum of Modern Art collection under the title Homes for America provides the final seal of approval. Yet their real strength lies in the fact that the canonization took so long, and in the slight discomfort, the itch, they will always feel in their newly rarified surroundings. It is all too easily forgotten that the impulse behind the images was precisely and quite literally away from art.

Nowhere Man In June 1965, the John Daniels Gallery that Graham had opened on East Sixty-Fourth Street just eight months earlier abruptly collapsed. He had staged some strong group shows of emergent artists and the first solo exhibition of Sol Lewitt, and was about to do the same for Robert Smithson, but nothing had sold. Graham was broke and had to return home to Westfield in New Jersey to live with his parents in the same middle-class house that he had so very unhappily moved to ten years earlier at the age of thirteen, when the family left the working-class suburb of Winfield. Kodak’s recently launched plastic camera, with its fixed focus and fail-safe plastic film cartridge, became a kind of survival device. Graham started documenting his own habitat, beginning with the tract housing developments sprouting up on either side of the railway line leading back to New York. The mass-market camera had the same serial logic as the suburbs themselves. Its little box was actually part of the suburbs, so it could faithfully be used as their mirror. Graham soon switched to his father’s 35 mm camera but retained the point-andshoot mentality of the Instamatic, the logic of the amateur enthusiast unable and uninterested to separate himself from the scene being captured. The photographs offer a loving reflection of the suburbs, an insider’s view. More than images of suburbs, they are suburban images. These documents, with which Graham will first be recognized as an artist, as distinct from a gallerist or critic, actually come out of a rejection of the detached and elevated figure of the artist. My first works as an artist are probably the photographs I took with the Instamatic camera . . . . I used my Instamatic to go to New Jersey . . . . I didn’t know anything about photography except good photography was very pretentious . . . . What I liked was amateur photography. Photography as a hobby . . . . Also, instantaneousness was

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Interview with Dan Graham ( F EBRUARY 8, 2007 ) Mark Wasiuta

Mark Wasiuta: I’m interested in what prompted your first return visits to New Jersey — how they influenced both your Homes for America project and your larger interest in spaces peripheral to the city. Dan Graham: The first photographs I took in New Jersey were after my gallery went out of business [1965]. The marshals were after some of the art that was in storage. So I went back to stay with my parents. I took a railroad to Westfield and along the railroad tracks I saw these stripped-down tract houses. In my gallery, we had shown Donald Judd. The interesting thing about Judd was that he wrote an article about Kansas City and the nineteenth-century city plan. So I became involved with city plans through Judd, and also because I’d read Michel Butor’s book Passing Time, which was about an industrial city in England, probably Manchester, and the labyrinth of the city. When Judd moved to New Jersey, where I was from, I think his work became very much about its materials: plastics, aluminum, and cheap sidings. After World War II, in New Jersey, like in California, everything was built along the highway. As I talked about in “ Homes for America, ” in New Jersey and in California during World War II, there were people who built ships. Actually these were the people who I grew up with in a kind of barracks-type community. After the war, when there was a population problem and they needed housing, they used the same materials for housing that they had used for the mass production of ships and airplanes. The tract homes they built were all along the highway because there was highway culture in New Jersey and in Los Angeles.  Homes for America  famously poses an affinity between the economic, material, spatial seriality of the tract home developments and other serial forms, serial processes, serial images in the 1960s. When did you make this connection? After my gallery went out of business, I had a very inexpensive Instamatic camera, and I walked along the railroad tracks taking photographs. What was interesting about the tract homes was that they were built in leftover spaces along the railroad tracks, and they abruptly ended with cliffs. They used a seriality, and I was very interested in the serial music of [Pierre] Boulez. I think Butor also was influenced by serial music, parti­ cularly Boulez. I realized everything in these developments was done in terms of serial patterns, presented abruptly and abruptly stopped. You had all these leftover spaces with a kind of mannerist perspective. Because of Robert Smithson, I was very involved in mannerism. I was also very involved with Robert Mangold’s early paintings on Masonite, because on the one hand, they were like Roy Lichtenstein paintings of sunsets. Mangold used off-pastel, somewhat off-pinks and browns that you would find in polluted areas, on the facades of suburban homes, and also like the sky at sunset. When the pollution set in around these tract homes, you would see the iridescence of pink-brown colors.

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Row of Tract Houses with Backyard Fence, Jersey City, New Jersey, 1966

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Housing Project, Bayonne, New Jersey, 1966

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Born in Urbana, Illinois in 1942, Dan Graham grew up in New Jersey. In 1964 he began directing the John Daniels Gallery in New York, where he put on Sol LeWitt’s first one-man show, and in groups shows, exhibited works by Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Robert Smithson. Like these artists, Graham considered himself a writer-artist, publishing essays and reviews on rock music, Eisenhower’s paintings, and Dean Martin’s television show. His earliest work dealt with the magazine page, predating but often associated with Conceptual art. His work often focuses on cultural phenomena, and incorporates photography, video, performance, glass and mirror structures. He has exhibited and realized commissions all around the world, including participation at numerous international group exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale (1976, 2003, 2004 and 2005) and documenta V, VI, VII, IX and X (1972, 1977, 1982, 1992 and 1997). Major retrospectives of his oeuvre have been staged in Europe (2001– 02) and in the U.S. (2009), showing at the Museum of ­Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Dan Graham lives and works in New York. Craig Buckley teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, where he is also the Director of Publications. Recently he has coedited Utopie: Texts and Projects 1967–1978 (with Jean-Louis Violeau) (2011) and Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X – 197X (with Beatriz Colomina) (2010). His articles and criticism have appeared in October, Grey Room, Perspecta, and Archplus, among others. Mark Wasiuta is an architect, theorist, and curator on faculty at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where he is also Director of Exhibitions and Director of Global Experiments in Art and Architecture. His research is focused on the turn to theories of environment and environmental design in postwar architecture and he is currently working on a history of Los Angeles’ air, its pollution, and other contaminants. Mark Wigley is Dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preser­vation. Wigley has written extensively on the theory and practice of architecture and is the author of Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire (1998); White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture (1995); and The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt (1993). He coedited The Activist Drawing: Retracing Situationalist Architectures from Constant’s New Babylon to Beyond (2001). Wigley has served as curator for widely attended exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Drawing Center, New York; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; and Witte de With Museum, Rotterdam. He received both his Bachelor of Architecture (1979) and his Ph.D. (1987) from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

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Dan Graham’s New Jersey In cooperation with GSAPP, Columbia University Editor: Craig Buckley and Mark Wasiuta Design: Integral Lars Müller Copyediting: Daniel Berchenko Printing and binding: Kösel, Altusried-Krugzell, Germany Paper: Tatami white, 150 g/m2, 1.3

© 2012 Lars Müller Publishers and the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or manner whatsoever without prior written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Dan Graham’s New Jersey is the fifth in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation’s Living Archives Series. Lars Müller Publishers Zurich, Switzerland www.lars-mueller-publishers.com ISBN 978-3-03778-259-0 Printed in Germany


Columbia Universit y GSAPP


Dan Graham's New Jersey