Two Weeks, Two Lectures
Dan Graham at MassArt & Tim Rollins at Harvard Museums
Picture this: My first day as the Curatorial Intern at deCordova. 85 degree heat. Sunny. Dan Graham’s sculpture, Crazy Spheroid-Two Entrances (pictured above, bottom left), just installed in the Sculpture Park.
Now picture: Me cleaning this sculpture. With a squeegee. In the sun. In 85 degree heat. For 3 hours.
It was a crazy first day on the job, but I feel like I really earned my stripes. And after that experience, I was all the more interested to see Dan Graham discuss his work in person. Merging sculpture with architectural forms, Graham uses two-way mirrored glasses as a tool to create extraordinary spacial relationships between the structure, viewer, and landscape, and highlight a “sense of play.”
Graham proved to be as eccentric as I was hoping he’d be, and at times was awesomely awkward; he give the poor tech person a run for their money, insisting upon switching between real 35mm slides and videos constantly…and then talking over the narrated videos away from the microphone!
But man we he fascinating. Graham definitely made it clear why his artwork is such a huge success…he’s absolutely brilliant. In the course of his 90 minute conversation spanning his career, he managed to discuss Sartre’s Transcendence of the Ego, Baroque architecture, underground punk music, Hudson River School paintings, and tripping acid, all as nonchalantly as if he was telling us what he ate for lunch. My favorite part was when a student questioned him about the Hudson River School reference, citing the negativity of Manifest Destiny. Graham’s cut him off to tell the student that his ignorance was a result of - and I quote - “the product of Marxists who go to art school.” Take that!
4 days later, I went to see Tim Rollins talk at Harvard for another ArtisTalk. When I was working at the Tang as an education assistant, I did extensive research on Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival to write a viewer guide for the exhibition. Unfortunately I then went abroad in the spring and missed the entire show. Thus, I was extremely excited when Rollin’s name caught my eye in the ArtisTalk information. Through his collaboration with under privileged young students, which started in the 1980s in the Bronx and has since spread, he uses art to empower, enrich, and impassion. Tim Rollins and K.O.S use classic literature as inspiration for each piece, and use beauty to overcome their stereotypical tough realities. What I love about the program is that the collaboration between Rollins and his ever-changing Kids of Survival is itself an amazing artwork.
Instead of Graham’s untouchable intelligence, Rollins was unequivocally captivating through his relatability. He talked had us at hello, immediately launching into hilarious and touching stories spanning his career from his first day on the job in the Bronx, to September 11th, 2011, to the death of a student. What was the most incredible thing to experience was Rollin’s utter conviction of his relationship with K.O.S., of the power of art in schools, and ultimately of the quality and emotional weight of the artwork (“as you can tell, we’re not playin’.”)
He spoke with the excited passion of a preacher the grace of a poet, so much that I found myself simply writing down his quotes. Here are some of my favorites:
"I like the margins. There’s space in the margins. There’s air in the margins. There’s freedom and joy in the margins."
"Say yes. That’s what life’s about."
"It’s an organic dynamic democracy that permeates the group and makes it last…it’s called love."
"Release the capacity for joy!"
"There are only two rules: Everyone is welcome. And everyone is an artist." (citing Kafka’s America)
"When you get right down to it, only beauty can change things." (citing Dostoevsky)