MIDDLE MAN. published with and for. DAN GrAhAM NIcoLAs GuAGNINI JohN MILLEr. on the occassion of MIDDLE MAN February 13 April 12, 2010

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1 used FuTurE MIDDLE published with and for ThrEE s company on the occassion of MIDDLE MAN February 13 April 12, 2010 DAN GrAhAM NIcoLAs GuAGNINI JohN MILLEr MAN 46

2 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 AcKNoWLEDGMENTs steven Baldi, Tobias Madison, Marian Goodman Gallery, Metro Pictures Gallery, Aura rosenberg, Emmanuel rosetti, Dan solbach, John Tremblay 27

3 WorKLIsT Dan Graham Living Room Furniture Store (Jewish) in Latino Downtown Area Patterson, NJ, 2006 Industrial Sorage Area: Patterson, 2006 Coulise View of Boardwalk / Seaside: Belmar, NJ, 2006 Mafia Mansion with Swan Statues: Deal, New Jersey, 2006 Nicolas Guagnini Neurotic: Anorexic, summer 2009 Neurotic: Apple, summer 2009 Neurotic: Booking, summer 2009 Neurotic: Cell, summer 2009 Neurotic: Pink, summer 2009 Neurotic: Farrah, summer 2009 Neurotic: Glasses, summer 2009 Neurotic: Lips, summer 2009 Neurotic: Lookout, summer 2009 Neurotic: Lunch, summer 2009 Neurotic: Mammal, summer 2009 Neurotic: Pants, summer 2009 Neurotic: Pollock, summer 2009 Neurotic: Spiderweb, summer 2009 John Miller Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ 11 Untitled ( ), inkjet print, 8½ Piper Marshall Dan Graham s Proposal for Art Magazine (1966) states the following: A Museum or gallery makes an important exhibition of 3 artists presently working in the same genre all of whom are familiar with each other and each other s body of work. Dan Graham, a known art critic, is commissioned by this magazine to produce an article dealing with this exhibition. I interview each artist, completely tape-recording their comments. I ask each of them to speak (also) about the work of the other two artist. The magazine feature, appearing with my name as its author, will consist only of a verbatim transcript of: 1. The first artist s comments about the second and third artist( s work). 2. The second artist s comments about the first and third artist( s) work). 3. The third artist s comments about the first and second artist( s) work). The resulting structure is only the socio psychological framework (a self enclosing triad), the reality that is behind the appearance of any article in the art magazine, of art criticism. 3

4 Graham s structure prophetically describes our current situation. By being an artist or a writer who collaborates with other writers or artists, you accept an incalculable, mutually beneficial exchange. You publicly establish common interest and alliance, and in so doing you develop a community. As both an exhibition and a catalogue, Middle Man departs from Graham s text. It pits photographs Dan Graham s homes for America, (1965 / 2006) John Miller s The Middle of the Day, (ongoing) and Nicolas Guagnini s Neurotic (summer 2009) against the artists respective writings. one could argue that the image in this exhibition is ancillary, a vehicle that illustrates and amplifies the text. The similarities among these artists should not be limited to their respective modes of production. They meet and overlap in the object of their study: the critique of everyday life. The terminology used in their respective texts evinces the conceptual thread that links the artists praxes. recurrent are: the abject, the vernacular, the absurd, the uncanny, the deskilled, the ordinary, the regular, the normal, the American scene commonness underlies each descriptive term; encrypted in these texts and images in varying degrees of intensity is a critique of late capitalist society, to which each argument ascribes a basic 4

5 tes as a conceptual and ideological stain: as the pictures stray in different directions, organizing themselves in thematic subgroups that promise new meanings, we cannot but always already read them in a specific critical relationship to the social body. The simple demarcation of a short period of time results in a historical perspective. Miller understands that photographs have a normative function. he says that an in-your-face approach is impossible for him; the photographs appear to be taken from an invisible point of view. And because The Middle of the Day premise hovers over that surface of neutrality, by default we see the ordinary critically anew, albeit obliquely. Ideology becomes unconscious. It is uncanny to look at regular, explicit pictures in such an implicit framework. This tension often points to an absurd that reserves an irreducible pathos in its understated comicality. If we laugh or even smirk we have to ask ourselves why. 24 decadence. In the middle class the decay of culture is a given. The Middle of the Day, by John Miller depicts the architectural ruins of culture, which is assumed a symptom of a globally defunct capitalist system. The photographs were taken in united states, spain, and Germany, but don t evidence difference by national culture. Instead, the images are uniformly populated with for-sale signs, empty storefronts, barred windows, mannequins, shopping mall escalators, food advertisements, garbage strewn across the street. shot between noon and two PM, a period of lunchtime and leisure, Miller s project has a similar agenda to Walter Benjamin s Arcades Project ( ). The images confront you with the hopeless repetition of commerce; they pinpoint when objects become reminders of time passing. In Guagnini s series Neurotic, commerce might easily be mistaken for plain lewdness. Guagnini s problematic shots document shopping as a bonding activity for older white women and their adolescent counterparts. Within the pairs, buying power is optimistically held up as a means for attracting inter-class mating. The sexual currents between mother and daughter are simultaneously projected as idyllic and hokey and repressed in their material. Graham s snapshots provide a foundation for both Miller s and Guagnini s series. 5

6 Graham intended homes for America (1965) as a parody of the Beatles 1965 song Nowhere Man and the Kinks 1969 Plastic Man, both of which he critiques for their isolation of the individual in capitalist mooring. The photographs are now regarded as an important anthropological study of Middle American architecture. In 2006, Dan returned to New Jersey; the new homes take up a new discussion, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the subsequent evacuation of modular homes. In these photographs we find an unsurprising lack of people. These artists works, like the texts of henri Lefebvre, have gone in and out of fashion several times. In light of the critique of everyday life, it makes sense to display these projects within the context of a middle class apartment. regular PIcTurEs Nicolas Guagnini John Miller s The Middle of the Day pictures are taken between noon and two PM. In that interval, a fraction of leisure time is given to individuals, generally in contractual terms, as a means to ensure the quality of their labor time. society agrees to stop for lunch a benchmark of civilization. In this interstitial time, the sun falls vertically. No particularly interesting shadows are generated by either the subject or the system. one would think that within such a clear-cut ideological framework the artistic hope of seeing what habituation renders invisible would yield some kind of conclusive set of images. Instead, as the images pile up over the years, they destabilize each other. Tentative positioning. Douglas huebler functions like a ghost in this project. A conceptual artist and one of John s teachers, huebler was concerned early on with how photographs and images originate in relationship to their premises. Miller s series cannot be entirely reduced to its premise, as in classic conceptual art. But The Middle of the Day pictures premise opera- 23 6

7 Latino patrons, at the liminal spatial configurations of late capitalism debased in suburbia, or at the absurdity of a Mafia mansion, Dan expands his deskilled photography to a meta-referential horizon. The pictures chew on and build upon Dan s writing and prior work, but do so in a critical, slightly self-mocking manner. his recent video West Edmonton shopping Mall goes in that direction too. Dan chooses to become an acute observer of the vernacular and somehow suspends for a moment the inevitable process of becoming art historical folklore himself. Dan has fun. 22 Alex Gartenfeld A Museum or a gallery makes an important exhibition of three artists presently working in the same genre all of whom are familiar with each other and each other s work, Dan Graham s Proposal for Art Magazine, Graham then proposes that the artists in the show write about each other s work. read through this text, Middle Man, an exhibition of work by Graham, John Miller and Nicolas Guagnini at Three s company, is a script written by the elder artist and endorsed by his colleagues. In Graham s proposal, space is unidentified by proprietorship, although it is implicated in the making of importance. This same refusal to reduce a space to a single subject manifests in the four photographs Graham shows here, which are part of the artist s return to New Jersey, the site of his famous homes for America series (1965). Photographs of a residential exterior, a store that appears as a living room, a closed security gate, the space between two houses four views of lower middle class suburban living as architectural packaging. The photographs are captured from different vantage points; 7

8 all of them are at odd angles and awkward proximities, emphasizing and de-stabilizing Graham as the capturer of the image. Meanwhile, the stilted perspectives undermine the symptom-syndrome structure of the photographs proposed anthropological inquiry. Miller s The Middle of the Day series and Guagnini s Neurotic series both follow an initial, self-determined script. In each the rule is ostensibly banal (respectively: shooting daily between noon and two PM; capturing pairs of women of different ages without their knowledge) but nothing is banal or arbitrary when anthropological methodology meets the everyday so the images accrue layers of meaning and humor, even (probably to the artists disapproval) narrative. Each artist sets up a behavioral machine that involves little initial conceptualization, a lot of regular fieldwork, and maximal output of information. It s a responsible and self-rewarding economics of production. Asked to write about this exhibition and these artists both Piper and I focused on what we located as a script pre-written by Graham. We are both interested in the parallel structures of Graham s text and this show, which we hope demonstrate that space is socially produced (Miller, on Guagnini) and cannot be entirely reduced to its premise, as in classic conceptual art (Guagnini, on Miller). ADVErBIAL PIcTurEs Nic Guagnini The folkloric builds the identity of the people. Folks consolidate around a language, symbols, and customs. The folkloric has an inherent crypto-fascist potential. The vernacular points to locality without the burden of fatherlands and motherlands. The Beatles are folkloric; the Kinks are vernacular. Picasso gets folkloric; when seurat depicts the leisure time of the middle class he is celebrating the vernacular. Venturi, one of Dan s heroes, theorized the American contemporary vernacular and made it into an architectural idiom. Ideas of genius and canonization dovetail with that of the folkloric. The cornerstone of Dan s canonization is homes for America. Ironically, whatever Arts Magazine published originally barely resembles Dan s piece. Instead, Dan has carefully and thoroughly disseminated his original unpublished layout. To an extent, a work of fiction. By going back to New Jersey to look at the undefined social spaces between the upper lower class and the lower middle class, at the residual aesthetic interactions latent in the glitz-kitsch furniture offered by a Jewish owned store to its 21 8

9 lax (1969) or Death by chocolate ( ). The structure collapses into itself. of course this parallels ongoing changes in what suburbia is and will be. Gone are the simple grids of yore. one views them with nostalgia. The planned community of Valencia, california, built around the theme of golf, emblematizes this shift. Built in the mid-1970s, it surrounds the california Institute of the Arts, which is why I know it. There, a whorl of curvy streets replaces the grid. No two houses are alike. Instead, they are a bewildering array of recombinant modules, all festooned in earth tones. If I had to walk through Valencia, I always got lost. The next street sign was always at least a half-mile away and it hardly mattered whether I was on Palmer Lane or Nichlaus Boulevard. No doubt the ongoing sub-prime mortgage crisis will reshape suburbia in ways we can t fully anticipate. The latest wrinkle is paradoxical: a whole class of homeowners urging banks to foreclose on their properties so they can cut their losses and move on. [1] Date for this work is unknown. In cerebellum, Graham notes that he is embarrassed not by nudity, but by the fact he kept his underpants on beneath the diaphanous robe given to him by the club s hostess. 20 Doubtless it s because we are excluded from his 1969 text (and thus in excess yield of his machine), and that we are invoked as important. Being that we are twenty-something art professionals working with established artists, the expression seems humorous. Laying it on especially thick, Graham s series is a return to his most important body of work, here cheaply installed without concerted differentiation from our books, our junk, our own signifiers of middle class acquisition that will inevitably be read against the artists photographs. Guagnini s photographs in particular turn on the exchanges that determine space. In suburban and urban environments alike, his conceit holds that women occupying public space call to mind themes of commerce and a related network of power relations. An overlapping representation might be made of a young woman and gay man in Lower Manhattan, which is what Piper and I might look like walking to work. Like Guagnini s pairings, we are caucasian and consumptionoriented adults; we go further (albeit, we hope, self-consciously) by making a project out of repudiating the privacy of our living space and opening it to representation and commerce. Graham s architectural skins of the middle class as always representing decline might function as both a warning and a con- 9

10 gratulation for our attempts to possess our class representation by studiously re-selling it. These artists also have the generosity to acknowledge that exchange cannot be reduced to its premise. Thank you. 10 to the matrix-like space of the museum/gallery complex. The shared spatial code has pointed implications not only for the scope of social interaction but also for the scope of what social actors might consider possible. To call this a regime may be overstating the case, but Graham has always held a somewhat jaundiced view of freedom. Dan is fun. This skepticism comes through not only in Alteration to a suburban house (1978 / 1982) and his analysis of An American Family (1971) (craig Gilbert s auto-anthropology of the middle class that foreshadows reality TV) but also in Graham s earliest piece of rock criticism, All You Need is Love (1968), and his excursion into the new age nightclub, the cerebellum. [1] Among other things, all this had a big impact on my own work, not only The Middle of the Day, but also clubs for America, my first photo series that acknowledges homes as its precursor. clubs was my response to an invitation to take part in a show addressing the AIDs epidemic in I decided that the brown impasto sculpture I was making at the time would be inadequate to address this issue. Instead, I researched the locations of ten New York city sex clubs that closed or had been closed after the outbreak of AIDs. The result was snapshots of ten otherwise anonymous facades that testified to the disappearance of a possibility of being in the world i.e., absence as another kind of social grid. The early homes for America photographs framed houses in such a way that they looked like minimal sculpture: Andre s, Judd s or smithson s. The long tracking shot through a housing development in rock My religion ( ) also stresses a seemingly timeless seriality to the tune of Glenn Branca s ethereal instrumental score. In terms of cinematography, this shot recalls Godard s famous tracking shot of a traffic jam in Week End (1967). cars or houses? More or less the same thing. In suburbia you can t have one without the other. The new homes photos abandon explicit references to minimal sculpture. They are closer to the Dan of Lax/re- 19

11 LIVING IN ruins John MIller I had already been teaching robert smithson s Tour of the Monuments of the Passaic (1967) and Dan Graham s homes for America (1965) at Barnard college for several years when one of my students (artist-critic Victoria camblin, I think) pointed out that I had mixed up the chronology. Because disenchantment typically follows enchantment, I had assumed that smithson s project namely treating industrial ruins as monuments came first. The reverse was true. In contrast to Monuments, Graham s homes, originating as a quasi-sociological think piece, threatened to disabuse the American public of its thencherished notion of the suburban good life. Perhaps smithson s characterization of the suburbs as rising into ruin registers this reverse causality. smithson and Graham s forays into New Jersey were both homecomings described as exotic expeditions. At the time, however, for Middle America it was Manhattan that was foreign territory. so different was this overbuilt island from the rest of the country that, in the mid-1970s, a movement for the city to secede from New York state began to gain momentum. And many in upstate New York would have welcomed this move. By 1981, fantasies of this exceptionality culminated in John carpenter s movie Escape from New York, an apocalyptic scenario that finds the Big Apple transformed into a walled-off, maximum-security prison. Between urban center and heartland, which is the site and which is the non-site? Now, post- Giuliani, post-9/11, it s easy to forget this extreme polarization. Via Bloomberg and a profusion of identical chain stores, urban development has come to mean remaking New York in the image of suburbia. homes for America devilishly linked the sprawling and potentially amorphous grid of suburban housing developments 18

12 Item: Physiognomy refers to the assessment of a person s character based on his or her outward appearance, especially the face. Item: Writing that attempts to capture visual appearances with words is the most debased form of writing. 17

13 more cross the street in anorexic. The older woman is busty and scowls. her younger counterpart holds a pair of sunglasses. They are more intent on the crosswalk than the photographer. Behind them, a Longchamps boutique. Apple depicts a beigeclad duo on either side of an in-store iphone display. The two are intent on their exchange, oblivious to the camera just a few feet away. Lunch is shot from outside a restaurant. Molding bisects the view of the table at which this couple sits. on the table are paper and plastic cups, a coke can and a plastic salad container. Both women stare at the same point on the table, which, from the camera s viewpoint, is obscured by the molding. The older one grips her purse. Mis-en-scene may be as important as the subjects themselves. The series of shops and cafes even a museum, suggest a modicum of luxury or surplus consumption. This context may be the arena in which these women bond, i.e., realize themselves as subjects within a given political economy or, one might say, patriarchy. This arena is not absolute. space is socially produced. In turn, it is the medium that reproduces social relations. Women may not appear in public space without a rationale. otherwise, one is attributed to them: prostitution. here, the rationale is mostly shopping. here too, pubescence and post-pubescence confront menopause. relations between young and old involves a struggle between dependence and independence. how much is wanted and how much is granted is a matter of constant negotiation. The outcome of this negotiation may never be fully realized, although yet more folder names begin to register some of the emotional stakes: worry, distrust such stakes may also be sublimated into style. In bi-color, the two subjects sport identical hairstyles. The older woman is blonde. The younger appears to have hennaed her hair black. Item: The folder titles and document names may or may not be part of the work as the author intends it. NIcoLAs GuAGNINI Dan Graham Nicolas Guagnini s point-and-shoot color photographs of middle-class mothers with their daughter are stark insights into configurations of sisterhood. Their bonding can be expressed as tortuous tension, and oppositely expressed in the shared ecstasy of the shopping hunt, and in the mimicking by the daughter of the gestures and attitude of the dominating mother. These photos also document the onset of middle age in the mother. They also document the struggle for a separate identity by the daughter. This often unresolved relation between the daughter and mother Freud calls the Electra complex. Guagnini s photos are a hint of American Gothic, recalling the American artist Grant Wood s 1930 painting, American Gothic. Guagnini s viewpoint is an unfettered, unflattering gaze at the American scene from a new American resident observing American norms in the streets. The works often cruel realism evokes Goya

14 JohN MILLEr s PhoToGrAPhs Dan Graham one of John Miller s The Middle of the Day photos depicts a back-lot industrial storage area with various half-open corrugated steel roll-out doors. It s a small, leftover area. A man stands, hands in his jacket, bounded by slightly irregular open steel fences. he s a generic non-white worker resting on his break. The small cul de sac area is strewn with industrial debris. Miller, a Marxist writer, focuses on the reality of an unproductive, free moment in the work cycle. A second photo by Miller features an empty street, a section of curb and sidewalk strewn with three discarded objects: a small white plastic garbage bag tied shut, a brown paper bag with perhaps uneaten food, and a red, crushed cardboard container, which may be a cigarette box. These still-life droppings are pathetic reminders of the throwaway product casing that make up the productive side of normal life. They have an abject presence in relation to the grey, ordinary street backdrop. 14 untitled John Miller The photographer recently transferred a folder labeled Images from his or her memory stick to the desktop of my Macbook. This folder contained two other folders: t-shirts and neurotic. T-shirts contained fourteen TIFFs. The images were straightforward: close-cropped pictures of women of color wearing novelty or slogan Ts. since these pictures are posed, one can reasonably assume that the photographer shot all of these with their subjects consent. Neurotic contained twenty-eight TIFFs. These were double-portraits of white women. In each, one woman is decidedly older than the other. here, the photographer has either captured his subjects unawares or has taken them by surprise. In one, identified as mammal, the older woman appears to be warding off the photographer from what may be her offspring. The confrontation appears to unfold in a food court, either indoors or out. In neurotic, one notes resemblances between the older and younger women in each image and begins to surmise that these are mothers and daughters. This, however, is speculation. one recalls, for example, how it is often said that people come to resemble their pets. Lack of hard evidence blurs the line between empirical observation (in which the camera typically functions as a prime instrument) and subjective projection. If these images are documents, they are also physiognomies. What else lies within neurotic? There s grim, although given the distracted and disconcerted expressions on the two women s faces, perhaps goofy would have been a more appropriate title. swedes features blondes with fair complexions. The older woman holds a water bottle. Accessories depicts yet another pair on either side of a rack with necklaces, bracelets and earrings. The rack also has a sign that reads FrEEDoM: Top shop. The younger woman casts an anxious look at the photographer. Two 15