Dan Graham and Thurston Moore
The Conceptual artist and the Sonic Youth rocker in conversation.
Thu May 7 2009
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5
WHAT: Graham’s retrospective
WHEN: June 25--October 11
WHERE: Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Ave at 75th St (212-570-3600, whitney.org)
WHAT: Sonic Youth’s new album, The Eternal, and an NYC performance
WHEN: June 9 (album); July 3 (concert)
WHERE: United Palace, 4140 Broadway at 175th St (212-685-1414)
Dan Graham: Congratulations on the BAM concert.
Thurston Moore: Oh, thank you so much. Congratulations to you too on your retrospective.
Graham: You saw my show when it was at MoCA in L.A., right? With your daughter? I hope she liked one of my favorite pieces, Girl’s Makeup Room.
Moore: She loved that piece! That was a great way to experience it, too, by going there with her. I told her, “This is the artist I met when I moved to New York.” I lived in the same building as you on 84 Eldridge Street. Those years were a crash course in discovering the New York art world, which I had sort of had some handle on when I was playing with people from the Rhode Island School of Design. Our shows were always at Jenny Holzer’s loft. That age group—artists like Robert Longo and Holzer and other ’70s art graduates— they were always talking about you and Vito Acconci. I first met Kim [Gordon] when I was playing in a band that [later] became Sonic Youth, but it didn’t have a name yet. I remember I was rehearsing at Acconci’s studio in Brooklyn and the first time I met you was when you were there one afternoon, sitting at the table with Vito, and you were both discussing punk rock and No Wave records. I was kind of fascinated that these two artists were having a really heavy discussion on Gang of Four. [Laughs]
Graham: Well, as a would-be rock writer, I was always fascinated by music. My closest friend for a long time was Steve Reich. I presented his work, actually, in the Paula Cooper Gallery. That’s why I moved to New York, not to be an artist, but to be a writer. I was a slacker, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I knew a little bit about art through reading Esquire magazine, which published a lot of writing about art. But at the time, everyone had this idea of being the artist-writer: Robert Smithson wanted to be like Borges. Dan Flavin wanted to be like James Joyce.
Moore: Interesting. Vito mentions that too, that he was interested in words. In fact, he was publishing with Bernadette Mayer in 0 to 9 magazine.
Graham: That’s how I came to meet Vito. I thought I might want to publish my work as poetry, among other things, and I found that all the people in the poetry field were gay, except Vito.
Moore: Ted Berrigan wasn’t gay.
Graham: Oh, well you know better than I do. But Abstract Expressionist writers like John O’Hara and John Roxbury, they were kind of a gay subculture.
Moore: Yes. But I think gays were very prominent in all disciplines of avant-garde art and literature in New York.
Graham: A lot of the shows back then were almost antigay.
Moore: Not antigay, they just weren’t gay. They weren’t homophobic.
Graham: Dan Flavin was definitely a little, because I think his twin brother was gay. But he also was from a working-class background. His father was a bus driver, and I think I can identify him very much with Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners. He was that kind of character.
Moore: How old were you when you moved to New York City?
Graham: In my early to midtwenties.
Moore: And were you considered the young guy on the scene?
Graham: I wasn’t on the scene. I was a virtual failure for many years.
Moore: [Laughs] Do you consider yourself a failure or do you just consider yourself someone who wasn’t involved in...
Graham: Well, I couldn’t get my articles published, and as a writer that was very difficult. In fact, that’s how I got involved with Vito. I showed him all my articles that couldn’t get published. Another thing was, I had burned my bridges. I used to be a little bit self-destructive in that way and self righteous. But I’ve gotten over that.
Moore: What sign are you?
Graham: Aries, the same birthday as Al Gore, Oshima and Descartes. But I’m also an optimistic horse—my Chinese sign—which is why you and I bond so much together; because you’re a dog.
Moore: You’re the dog. I just eat until I get sick.
Graham: It means you worry about other people. That you try to help rectify wrongs in life, and as a Leo it means you are a great producer. This is astrological psychobabble, isn’t it?
Moore: Is it? I don’t know, I find it serves a real truth to a lot of personality traits and the dynamics between certain people. I notice there’s a certain strain in your work of women-worshipping.
Graham: That might define you as well, but in a different way. When I was 13, I read Margaret Mead. My parents had Margaret Mead books, and I read them because I wanted to learn about sex, but she was a feminist, so I became a kind of feminist. I also read Shulie Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, which is a feminist book recommended [to me] by my sister, and when I was doing the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design work series, we had Shulie Firestone come up to do a possible book. But I’m against institutional critique, because I think museums have very important spaces. The lobby is a pickup place, that’s why I’m showing a lot of videos in places where people can lie down. Video is a little like television, and if you’re a teenager coming on your date, you should lie down and have a full program. There are also benches nearby for older folks who are there with their grandchildren or just want to hold hands. I think the great thing about the show is it’s taking place in the summer, which means a lot of people from the Midwest and middle America will be coming. Sometimes it’s very important for the avant-garde musician that you have a general audience response as well as the New York elitist intellectuals.
Moore: Do you have any advice for avant-garde artists turning 50 and beyond? Especially men.
Graham: I think there is a big problem at that age, because that’s when magazines and museums degrade artists. Because everyone prefers the young artist of the moment. It’s hard. When you’re young, you can collaborate with everybody. It’s very hard when you get older to find collaborative partners.
Moore: I find myself collaborating with very young people. Most of the people my age have either become domesticated or they’ve lost the fire. There are some people older than me who I collaborate with, but basically it’s people in their mid to late twenties and early thirties.
Graham: Brooklyn is another world, right?
Moore: Yeah, I should take you out there and go to some of these shows that I’ve been playing with these young noise artists. I think that’s something you might like. I have to go, though, because we have to go play.
Graham: Okay, I’ll catch you in the ’hood. Last I saw you play, I was in the bleachers, but the sound was absolutely great and it was an ecstatic experience.
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