The Work of Art as Criticism

By Anastas, Rhea | Art Journal, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The Work of Art as Criticism


Anastas, Rhea, Art Journal


Dan Graham. Two-Way Mirror Power: Selected Writings by Dan Graham on His Art, edited by Alexander Alberro. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999 198 pp.,. 48 ills.. $18.95 paper.

Dan Graham's writings about his own works are the focus of a new collection edited by Alexander Alberto: Two-Way Mirror Power: Selected Writings by Dan Graham on his Art.' This is the second volume of critical writing by Graham published by MIT Press. Comparatively, the first, Rock My Religion (1993). edited by Brian Wallis, features Graham's cultural criticism: essays on rock and punk rock, television and popular culture, and modernist art and architecture. A hard distinction between Graham's writings about his works and his essays is difficult to maintain, as much of the intellectual terrain between the two genres is shared.

The place of the artists' wrong in the literature of art is ambiguous, and in Graham's case is especially so, as his writing is deeply connected with his visual work, while constantly externalizing his practice by placing it in a larger cultural (and frequently nonart) context. Thus, the manifest distinction that Rock My Religion is largely about the work of others (while it does include some documentation of his own projects) and that this new volume features Graham's writings on his own works is only superficially useful. The usual art historical terms of primary and secondary, form versus content, and description versus interpretation significantly fail when applied to the workings of Graham's projects and written production. While description is an essential component of all Graham's written production, the writings about his own works never serve merely as an account of an artistic oeuvre. Thus, as a discrete selection, Two-Way Mirror Power lacks cohesion at times because of this question of how to classify Graham's extensive and diverse written production, and also its limited length as a paperback.

Several texts which have appeared in Rock My Religion and elsewhere-this time unabridged-are included in Two-Way Mirror Power. The new volume also includes examples of Graham's cultural criticismfor example, "The Artist as Producer" (1978-88), "Performance: End of the '6os" (1989). and "Essay on Video, Architecture, and Television" (1979). A reprint of Graham's paper for the conference "Legacies of Critical Practice in the 8os" published in Discussions in Contemporary Culture, edited by Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1987), and four hard-to-find interviews bring additional voices to the collection through discussion and dialogue formats.

Alberro has organized Graham's writings based on the type of visual project (magazine page, performance, film, pavilion) as well as chronology, which is the most logical and pragmatic way to approach his production. However, these distinctions also break down as the recurring logic of methods and the material and the visual concerns of the artist become legible throughout the body of work and writing. This suggests the possible benefits of applying a more thematic and structural approach to Graham's production, which might yield new kinds of links between the projects both across type and over time. For example, the cultural construction of "suburbia" in both historical and more literary terms (always paired with notions of the "urban" in Graham's work) links the magazine article "Homes for America" (1966-67) with Graham's early rock criticism and works as various in type as the video and article "Rock My Religion" (1982-84) and the architectural model "Alteration to a Suburban House" (1978).

Two-Way Mirror Power is one installment in MIT Press's recent project to publish artists' writings. The classification of Graham's writing in particular, and this group of artists' writings more generally, together raise a number of questions concerning the critical and institutional reception of conceptualist work and its legacies to both art and art discourse. Continuous with Graham's artistic production, Rock My Religion and Two-Way Mirror Power evidence a dual allegiance to visual practice and cultural criticism.

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