The exhibition Dan Graham: Beyond is in its final week here at the Walker. After it closes on Sunday, January 24th audiences will be lacking in opportunities to experience themeslves via funhouse mirrors while listening to Jim Morrison or Patti Smith singing their heart out in another part of the show behind a set of curtains (the name of that piece is called Rock My Religion). The show has been a hit with all ages. The best experience I had at the Walker was watching nearly 30 kids play hide and seek in the gallery around his pavilions (I hope no one from registration is reading this!).
Writer, biographer, troubadour, and all around cool guy Jim Walsh has written about music in the Twin Cities for nearly two decades. You may have read his biography of the Replacements entitled The Replacements:All Over But the Shouting. I asked him to give a shout out to Graham since the band was one of the artist’s favorites.
You can read Walsh’s ink on MinnPost.com or you can catch him tending bar at Kings, a new southwest Minneapolis hangout. Either way, scoot on in to catch a last look at the Dan Graham show. You’ll be glad you did.
By Jim Walsh
In terms of sheer weirdness, there are few sensory experiences like walking out of a late-night screening of Avatar and all her otherworldly beauty into the closed-for-business Mall Of America and all her sterile suburban shopping ugliness. I did as much the other night, and wondered if anyone else shuddered, as I did, at the idea that all across America, moviegoers who spend three hours bathed in a resplendent canvas of color and goddess-worship are jarred back into the cold dank reality of the Cineplex or mall.
Forgive me for wanting to crawl back into the kaleidoscope womb and stay there forever, but that’s what art does: changes our perspective and focus to the point where we see our environs exactly for what they are. Specifically, that’s what Dan Graham: Beyond did for me. I read his interviews and writings and shuffled through the exhibit, shrugging at certain moments and marveling at others, but its overarching idea – paying attention to the minutia of living and what dull existences humans can make for themselves – stuck with me and will continue to do so, like a punk-rock updating of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing
The Graham exhibit came to Walker around the same time as the deaths of Bruce Allen, guitarist for Minneapolis art-punk pioneers the Suburbs, and Vic Chesnutt, the extraordinary songwriter and artist from Athens, Ga. Both men had a firm stake in the same underground that Graham tilled, and all three represent an aesthetic and history of alternative art and music that’s easy to take for granted, or even forget, at a time when the present pulses with so much promise. But their work, asterisks in the big picture, validates the outsider as not leper but as crucial commentator.
In addition to playing incendiary electric guitar and perfecting a shamanesque scream, Allen created the Suburbs’ logo of five men’s room silhouettes, which dovetails with Graham’s unvarnished tinker-toy depictions of suburbia. A few nights after Chesnutt died, a close friend of his emailed me to say, “I can’t help but think that Vic is doing crazy eights somewhere (in his wheelchair) and laughing his ass off that he screwed up 10,000 Christmases.” He’s right, of course, and we can’t have enough reminders that life in fact is absurd, or enough of the kinds of portals and mirrors provided by Graham, Allen, Chesnutt and others that allow us to laugh at ourselves.
Organic though his expression may be, Graham obviously knows that by placing a camera on his penis, or banging on a piano, or making anti-music, or chanting nonsense mantras, or basically being Andy Kaufmann before Andy Kaufmann was Andy Kaufmann, he is challenging what we’ve gotten used to, what we call art, how we define living and feeling alive.
For me, what matters most about “Dan Graham: Beyond” is the sense of wonder I’m left with. Plenty of art and music offers not a lick of wonder. Graham, Allen, and Chesnutt are important for what they represent – an aesthetic that takes us out of the every day and makes us uncomfortable, angry, bored, and dim-witted, and then forces us to wonder why we are the way we are, and what sorts of art and music and media we’ve been spending our valuable time with. Finally and most importantly, it whets our curiosity for what else we might be missing outside our comfort zones.