Dan Graham and Jeff Wall are of roughly the same generation, although Graham is a little older and his art career began at a younger age. From an involvement in the Conceptual art of the second half of the 1960s, Graham’s interests moved toward performance, architecture, and music, while Wall’s moved toward the study of art history, and then a reimagining of photography along the lines of the Western tableau. Both artists maintain a deep interest in the social status of art and the conditions of spectatorship. Both have also written important essays, not least about each other’s work. In 1980 Graham published “The Destroyed Room of Jeff Wall.”(1) In 1981 Wall published “A Draft for Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel”(2) (a text he later expanded). In 1989 the two artists collaborated on a proposal for a children’s pavilion.
The proposal consists of a set of architectural plans, threedimensional models, and nine circular photographic portraits of children. This was the third suite of portraits Wall had made, after “Young Workers” (1978; remade 1983), and “Movie Audience” (1979). All three were shot looking up at the subjects, a self-consciously “heroic” and “ennobling” angle reminiscent of Soviet portraiture of the 1920s and 30s.
With a circular interior and a domed roof, the pavilion was to be built into the ground on the top of a hill. It was to resemble a small amphitheater; the portraits were to be presented as backlit lightboxes, and placed high around the curved walls. The angle of view up to the portraits corresponds to the angle at which the portraits were shot.
At the apex of the domed roof, a hemispherical glass oculus was coated with two-way mirror. Those inside would look up and see an anamorphic reflection of the interior, including themselves. Those ascending the steps on the outside of the dome could look down through the oculus while also seeing themselves reflected against a background of domed sky. This view corresponded to the sky backdrops of the nine portraits.
While no architecture can program its uses, the design of the pavilion was certainly informed by an interest in a kind of spatial theater of vision and play that each of the artists had been exploring in their solo work. “The Children’s Pavilion” could provide a heightened and highly reflexive sense of space and spectacle, blurring the distinction between play and audience, watchers and watched.
Thirty years on, it seems unlikely that “The Children’s Pavilion” will be realized. In the intervening years, Graham has gone on to make other kinds of steel and glass pavilion structures all over the world. Wall has stayed within the museum and gallery, exploring public space and social behavior at the level of depiction within his photographs (although he made a public sculpture, “Lost Luggage Depot,” 2001, installed on the quayside in Rotterdam).
Nevertheless, there is no reason why a proposal cannot be a work of art in itself. Indeed Dan Graham has made several “proposals as artworks” (notably “Alteration to a Suburban House,” 1978). Moreover, Wall has come to feel that his portraits of children function perfectly well in a gallery setting, and when exhibited together in the right configuration, they even suggest the idea of a pavilion.
(1) Dan Graham, “The Destroyed Room of Jeff Wall,” in Real Life Magazine, March 1980, p. 4–6.
(2) Jeff Wall, “A Draft for Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel,” in Jeff Wall, Selected Essays and Interviews, New York 2007, p. 11–29.