Scott, Peter, Art Monthly
Whitney Museum of American Art New York
5 June to 11 October
Part cinema verite and part surveillance, the popular appeal of television reality shows rests on their ability to encourage their viewing audiences to identify with regular people, while maintaining the detached voyeurism implicit in watching others sacrificing themselves for the sake of one's own entertainment. Alternating seamlessly between developing a bond with average people in the heat of competition, and the joy of rubbernecking after so many of them crash, reality TV thrives in a society which condemns anonymity while making sport of those who manage to breach it. The early 1970s television documentary An American Family was the first truly popular reality show, revealing collapsing distinctions between public and private in a culture perpetually offered the spectacle of itself through the expanding networks of media and commodity culture. As camera crews followed the upper middle class Loud family for a year, the pressures of constant surveillance were said to have exacerbated routine familial tension into hyperdrama fit for TV viewing.
In a piece that alluded to the indivisible nature of American television and family life, Dan Graham, for whom this exhibition is a first US retrospective, placed a large screen television on the front lawn of a typical suburban house allowing the passerby to view what was being watched inside. In the middle of a family argument during one of the artist's visits, Graham switched to a wrestling match on TV, projecting the inner family 'dynamic' onto the street outside. Possessing an acute understanding of the interplay between behaviourism and perception, as well as an interest in language, media, youth culture and architecture, the Whitney exhibition offers an opportunity for US audiences to experience aspects of his work that go beyond the limited categories of Conceptual Art and post-minimalism with which he has long been associated.
Exploring the limits of self-consciousness and its representation, the mid-1970s video and performances were highly charged experiments in the 'splitting' of the self via its reflections and representations. In Performer/ Audience/Mirror, 1977, Graham adopted the nononsense cadence of a sportscaster as he gave a 'play by play' account of his activity in the space between an audience and a wall-sized mirror. Shifting from banal descriptions of his movements reflected in the mirror to the audience's responses, and then back again, the artist presented the dilemma of the socially constructed self as a moment-to-moment process requiring constant refocusing. Negotiating between the social self and its representation via a running monologue which noted simple gestures and shifts in posture, the body is revealed as a somewhat cumbersome site of exchange between private experience and public expectation, alluding to the latent schizophrenia present in everyday experience.
Like Performer/Audience/Mirror the model Alteration to a Suburban House, 1978/92, presents experience as split or divided, but here through the division of a conventional suburban tract home with a mirrored partition wall. …