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Like much of the art in the show, the ads and other ephemera represent some of the first ruminations on various contemporary modes of communication. In one advertisement, Graham hired medical writer Roger Sharp to pen an ad reading that the artist had sought out a qualified medical writer who could describe the male post-climax condition but received no responses. The joke is still amusing today, though arguably not quite so fresh; contemporary artists such as Adam Chodzko, Steve Lambert, and countless others have used jocular advertising as their medium. That said, only a few male artists today—photographer Charlie White among them—create work engaged with revealing impotence within male sexual identity.
Some of the later work in the show feels as though it would likely have been most effective viewed in the decade it was made. Undoubtedly, the low point of the show came in the form of a diagram and photographic documentation of an architectural project executed in collaboration with photographer Jeff Wall. Epitomizing the heavily politicized and needlessly complicated art at the time, a short descriptive excerpt by the artists is enough to make most viewers’ heads spin. “The oculus is a two-way mirror concave glass lens through which children can see an enlarged image of themselves as giants against the smaller image of adults and other children looking up from the inside, superimposed on the changing skyscape and also superimposed on Jeff Wall’s nine illuminated cibachromes of children of different nationalities set against different skies.” Got all that? Me neither.
Other works, particularly the film, are less complicated. Rock My Religion (1984), Graham’s documentary exploring the connection between rock music and religion, marks an exhibition highlight, even if it only nominally connects with the themes of perception permeating the rest of the show. The double projection Roll (1970) provides another high point, one reel capturing a man in a lumber jacket rolling down a hill in the forest, while another constitutes footage from the camera of the rolling man. There’s nothing overly exciting about two projections past a tension between the perspectives, but its contrast speaks to Graham’s outlined objectives for an artist in his ad INCOME (Outflow) PIECE: to reveal invisible structures within media. In this case, Graham illuminates a mutually reliant perspective between the cameras. Notably, Graham’s exhibition hearkens back to Paul McCarthy’s solo show at The Whitney last summer, in which the artist similarly used architecture to create perspectival disorientation. In particular, McCarthy’s Spinning Room, a work conceived in 1971 and executed in 2008, uses mirrors, scrims, and various delayed video projections of viewers so complex it’s difficult to grasp the timing sequence. Graham’s Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay presents a shockingly like-minded project conceived a little over 35 years ago, and executed much later (in this case, 1993).
Interestingly, whereas I struggled greatly to understand the time delays of Graham’s piece, I didn’t have nearly the same trouble viewing McCarthy’s similar project—in fact, I found it almost immediately moving. It plays to the narcissism of viewer while creating an unexpectedly beautiful colored projection of images.
But beyond all this, it occurred to me that I connected to McCarthy’s work with ease because I found greater familiarity in its aesthetic language—it is very current. In of itself this observation isn’t particularly revelatory, but it does indicate the degree to which time has been complicated by Graham’s work and by McCarthy’s. Temporal context is confused because conception and execution are separated. Notably, the comparison also reveals the degree to which Graham’s work is rooted in time. Despite the date of execution, his art still feels intimately linked to its era of conception.