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Art review: Dan Graham at Regen Projects II

November 11, 2010 |  2:00 pm

400.2010 Regen Projects Installation 09 Last year, MOCA held a 40-year retrospective of the work of Dan Graham called “Dan Graham: Beyond.” A show now at Regen Projects II of new sculptures by the artist, anchored by some slightly older videos and photographs, reads as an addendum: beyond “Beyond.” It’s a concentrated offering that gives a good taste of Graham’s latest efforts, how he thinks across media, and why, in spite of its formal austerity, his work elicits charmed smiles.

The centerpiece of the Regen show is “Penultimate Curving Pavilion,” a structure the shape of a bisected teardrop built of steel and two-way mirror glass, about 25 feet from point to curved end. Graham has been making such open, free-standing, participatory structures for over 30 years, for indoor and outdoor settings. The Concise Oxford defines pavilion as a “light, ornamental building,” a building “used for entertainments,” both of which apply to Graham’s work. This structure, typically, is handsome and becomes a stage for confounding amusement.

400.DG 109 Installation-11 Visitors can enter in two places where there are gaps in the exterior glass walls. From wherever we are, looking at and through the structure, it appears to change shape, because the glass is both transparent and reflective. The pavilion doubles to complete the teardrop or spreads like a fan, and duplicates of ourselves appear within those phantom spaces. The curved walls send back funhouse-style reflections, skinny or squat, and traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard, just outside the clear glass gallery door, appears to zip and rebound through the pavilion too. Disorientation yields to reorientation, a new perspective on the built environment as a matter of planes and membranes, an abstract order with real social ramifications. In spite of the piece’s seriousness and corporate coolness, it betrays a quietly devious sense of humor.

A video playing nearby helps link this exercise in sensory play to the world beyond the gallery walls. In the eight-minute, non-linear work, Graham uses a camera to sketch the sights of West Edmonton Mall, a gargantuan complex billed as “The Greatest Indoor Show on Earth.” A pavilion to the nth degree, the mall is an outrageously unlikely marriage of indoor and outdoor amusements — water park, ice rink, animal enclosures, shops, restaurants and more — within a framework of gleaming glass, metal and mirrors. Graham’s pavilion suddenly suggests a stripped-down, scaled-down, minimalist koan in response, a sober wink at the confusing, consumerist bacchanal.

 400.DG 116Five models for additional pavilions use the same vocabulary of shapes and materials, with the addition of perforated aluminum walls. Some of the pieces have been built, full scale, and appear in another video that surveys Graham’s installations and pavilions since the ‘70s. As objects on pedestals, the sculptures don’t invoke the same delicious destabilization as structures that can be entered and explored, but only hint at the possibilities. In one of them, two parallel walls with different sized perforations set off a woozy moiré effect. The nesting angles in “Two V’s” and the “Two Non-Facing Concave Ellipsoidal Shapes” feel like small, friendlier relatives of Richard Serra’s imposing curved steel walls. Mostly, the work brings to mind the irridescent coated glass cubes and installations of Larry Bell, and phenomenological situations staged by Robert Irwin, only more light-hearted.

 A selection of Graham’s New Jersey Shore photographs from 2006 evidence his interest in the banal and vernacular, and like the mall video, function best as contextualizing notes to the more substantive sculpture/
architecture. Graham’s materials are all too familiar in the modern urban landscape, metal and mirrored glass signaling both authority and anonymity. By applying the tools of distortion, distension, contradiction and surprise, he turns the familiar inside out, building sturdy structures that flirt with the insubstantial, static forms that veer toward the dynamic, containers that delight in leakage.

– Leah Ollman

Regen Projects II, 9016 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 276-5424, through Dec. 8. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Images: Penultimate Curving Pavilion (top) and Untitled. Courtesy of Regan Projects II.