About ten or fifteen years ago, I was a twenty-something-year-old woodcut printmaker primarily concerned with expression. I felt that big expensive art was tacky and elitist, while prints were affordable and proletariat.
One day, in a tony downtown gallery, I was completely bored by an outlandishly expensive work of art. It a cube of glass about 4x4x4′, raised to eye-level by a simple chrome structure. The glass transitioned from clear to two-way mirror, creating a few optical tricks. My knowledge of art after modernism was pretty weak. I felt that it looked like corporate art scaled down for a rich person’s home. The artist, Dan Graham, didn’t ring a bell; the price, $100,000, made me laugh out loud. Who would pay that much money for this thing! It had no content, no beauty.
Which, I’ve since learned, is exactly the point of Minimalism. It’s not about expression or representation, but about the viewer’s relationship to the art-object.
Lately, I’ve been working with mirrors and have come around to studying Dan Graham’s work. He is interested in power and public versus private space (there is content, after all), so the corporate feel is probably intentional.
Conceptual art is often hard to “get”—the clues to content and context are hidden, so viewers often need to be armed with information to appreciate the art. When I first saw Graham’s work, I saw a content-less structure in the context designed for private sales. But I can appreciate this work now because I have more information about Minimalism, Conceptualism, Graham’s interests, and the ideal context, which is a public park, like his project with Dia:Beacon.
[I also don’t find the cost of the work so outrageous anymore. Here’s why:
• Galleries sometimes offer discounts to long-term collectors.
• The gallery (and there can be more than one) gets half.
• Graham gets the other half, to allot to his costs: labor (including architects, fabricators, engineers, designers), studio costs, health care, materials, assistants, etc. Shoppers are used to paying for corporation’s overhead costs, but sometimes approach products and services by individuals differently. For example, it might only cost $5 to manufacture a shirt, but that doesn’t deter shoppers from paying $50 for it.]