Dan Graham

Star of David-Hamburger Version, 2001

Sculpture | Silver brass, NiCr coated glass, wood and paint
45.8 x 99.5 x 99.5 cm


Hybrids between architecture and sculpture, metal structures with glass and tinted mirrors, at once transparent and reflective, Dan Graham installs his pavilions in public spaces, parks and cultural institutions. Their optical complexity crystallizes a complexity of relationships — between the watcher and the watched, between what is reflected and what remains invisible and hidden by the reflection, between the structure and the ambit inside it confined by the reflection — in which the viewer’s expectations are at once stimulated and frustrated, demonstrating how the forms of the city affect the behaviour of its citizens. Inside the pavilions, not only the movements of the viewers but any change in ambient conditions such as the intensity of the light or the temperature change their reading as subject and object are fused prismatically, and the discovery of oneself as viewer is directly related to the awareness that the pavilion appears to have of itself.

These structures arise out of a claim about the historicity of public space: from the gazebos in Baroque garden, from the teachings of Venturi and Scott Brown and, above all, from the book Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas, in which the urban is understood as a concatenation of spaces of entertainment. Notwithstanding these postmodern references, the language of the pavilions derives from the forms that minimalism adopted as a grammar: the basic cube comes from the lattice structure of the American city, from the minimum unit of the urban block reduced in scale. The same reduction also extends to the natural environment: Graham has spoken of how the pavilions adopt the forms of the setting sun in the paintings of Robert Mangold, of those situations that occur everyday at twilight in our big cities, when pollution turns the sky golden brown.

This succession of references also gives a semantic content to of the choice of the polarized mirror, that fundamental material of the urban landmarks of large corporations, which creates a singular effect of surveillance, transparent from inside and reflective on the outside, concealing the idea of economic production that takes place in their interior. If big business seeks to identify with nature by reflecting the sky, the pavilions reflect in contrast an active viewer conscious of these necessary contradictions in the reading of the city centre: the pavilions can be seen as the critical reverse of the situation of power looking out from the top of a skyscraper.

For Dan Graham, the model is of fundamental value in its own right, and not just an intermediate step in the completion of a work. In an architectural project, the model embodies a fantastic vision or an exercise in propaganda prior to the realization of a built work. In the field of art, within the economy of forms that the artist imposes, the model manifests the potential of the structure that will eventually be built: the body’s ability to undertake a spatio-temporal reading of a significant object, hybridizing aesthetic form and urban complex in the critical public space of the viewer’s gaze.

Manuel Segade