Dan Graham

Date/place of birth

March 31, 1942, Urbana, Illinois, United States

Portfolio - Artists and Photographs
Portfolio - Artists and Photographs

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Dan Graham biography

Dan Graham never studied art, but understood it and made it – he challenged existing beliefs in practice and theory, engaged with the individual subject and its web of relationships, made connections and interpreted them in his own way. All of this has made the artist a much respected and celebrated figure of postmodernism. 

Dan Graham actually wanted to be a writer

Dan Graham was born in Urbana, Illinois on 31 March 1942. He spent his childhood in New Jersey and moved near to Westfield at the age of 14. He had a difficult relationship with his father, a chemist, and his mother, a school psychologist, could not prevent her son from battling with psychological problems for many years. Apart from high school and two semesters of philosophy, Dan Graham did not receive any formal training, but engaged himself almost obsessively with the work of the controversial ethnologist Margaret Mead and her colleague Claude Lévi-Strauss, admired the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, and devoured the authors of the contemporary French Nouveau Roman movement. This early phase culminated in the desire to become a writer. Another passion was rock music, and combining both interests, he worked for a short time as a critic. A frequently quoted text appeared in 1969 in the specialist journal Fusion. Like many other artist colleagues, Graham lacked the financial means to purchase expensive materials, and writing such articles offered him an effective possibility to express his inspiration. 

“Homes for America” brings the breakthrough

The separation of art from commerce was important to Dan Graham, for he valued his independence. He once observed that he never really earned money with his art – a situation which has probably improved with the great success of recent years. In his early years, however, this attitude was not without economic consequences: Involvement in an art gallery brought him a mountain of debt at the age of 23, which eventually forced him to return to his parent’s house in New Jersey. Ironically, whilst looking out the window on the long train journey, he had the idea for the artwork that would bring his breakthrough and the basis for a career as an artist. The colourful houses flying past inspired his famous picture series “Homes for America” which the Finch College Museum of Art displayed as a slide show as part of the exhibition “Projected Art” in 1966. This event suddenly made Dan Graham known as a conceptual artist and opened the door to exhibitions and academies. 

Multiple Documenta participant, art with concept

Dan Graham always had a plan. His inspiration did not really break fresh ground, but followed clear lines which the artist traced with deliberation. There was always a considered thought alongside the mere spark, so Graham composed numerous theoretical writings that corresponded with his works executed in practice and give those interested a unique insight into the artist’s working methods and onto the state of the art scene of his time. Dan Graham presents a large part of his art outside of his homeland of America, and took part in Documenta in Kassel five times between 1972 and 1997. Dan Graham lives and works today in New York. 

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

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