“Joint Dialogue”

May 2010

~Overduin & Kite, Los Angeles~

A pervasive sense of slippage—between the personal and professional, between art and life—governed this group exhibition, curated by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, that tied together work by Dan Graham, Stephen Kaltenbach, and Lee Lozano. The show’s title puns on Dialogue Piece and Grass Piece by Lozano (both 1969, and represented in the show as actual-size facsimiles of notebook pages), two durational, diaristic works that overlapped in execution; but it also points to personal entanglements between Lozano and Graham, and between Kaltenbach and Lozano. Works by the former pair (mostly text based) mingled in one gallery space, and works by the latter pair (including several pieces attributed to “Lee Lozano as remembered by Stephen Kaltenbach”) inhabited the other.

From the handwritten notes of Dialogue Piece we learn that Kaltenbach visited Lozano in her loft on May 24 (WE TRADE A LOT OF OUR ART IDEAS & DISCUSS DOING A PIECE TOGETHER); Graham visited six days later to have AN IMPORTANT DIALOGUE IN THAT DEFINITE CHANGES WERE IMMEDIATELY EFFECTED BECAUSE OF IT. The exact nature of these changes and the full content of the dialogue remain unknown—at least to the viewer. Like many of Lozano’s handwritten pieces, Dialogue Piece is at once revealing and restrained, exposing circumstantial details (personal and potentially embarrassing information about fellow artists who visited her apartment, for example) while largely avoiding the subject matter of the dialogue facilitated by the piece.

Graham’s works in the show also share an interest in quasi-scientific (or legalistic) inquiry, even when a hypothesis is seemingly absent. His Income (Outflow) Piece, 1969, presents a typed and hand-annotated scheme for selling stock in “Dan Graham Inc.,” in order to pay him- self the salary of an “average American citizen”—but also, the work claims to “chang[e] the homeostatic balance of his life (environment) support by re-relating the categories of private sector and public sector” (emphasis Graham’s). The radicality of Graham and Lozano’s text-based works is not their supposed “dematerialization” but their intensive attempt to erase—or “re-relate”—the perceived boundaries of art and life, typically with a modest sheet of paper as interface.

Kaltenbach’s works from the same period—and his manifestations of remembered Lozano pieces—further erode such thresholds. A series of twelve advertisements placed in Artforum in 1968 and 1969, displayed here two to a shelf along a gallery wall, drop instructive phrases such as TELL A LIE, START A RUMOR, TEACH ART, and TRIP without attribution, dates, or context beyond the expectations attendant to the ad section of this periodical. The “Joint Dialogue” installation suggests that these pieces—or is it one cumulative piece, or not a “piece” or “pieces” at all?—might still be operative to anyone reading them in the present.

Dirty Laundry, 1969/2010, is a Lozano work “remembered” by Kaltenbach. (Lozano died in 1999 but had long since withdrawn from the art world.) Presumably evidence of an interpersonal “collaboration” (before or after the “dialogue,” one wonders), the unwashed bed-sheet, draped and hung on the wall, somewhat humorously recalls the Shroud of Turin, but also opens serious ontological questions: Was the work intended (by Lozano) to be shown in the context of a gallery? If so, did she title it—or did Kaltenbach? Where did this sheet come from? Similar questions arise with Disarticulated Skeleton, ca. 1968/2010, a full human skeleton arranged and rearranged in three different configurations (on its back, in the shape of a mandala, in a rectangular spiral) by the curator over the show’s run, following from Kaltenbach’s recollection of a skeleton Lozano kept, and manipulated, in her studio.

Perhaps it is more ethically sound to view these as Kaltenbach’s works, rather than Lozano’s, but the issue of authorship—or its attribution—points to both artists’ embrace of open-ended, evolving strategies. Lehrer-Graiwer organized the show with the participation of Graham and Kaltenbach (both of whom reenacted performances during the show’s opening); hence her own position, as curator, occasionally appears to overlap that of the artists—or vice versa. Then again, Graham, Kaltenbach, and Lozano’s joint commitment to exploding the assumed frame of artworks (exemplified by the synecdochic nature of the word piece: piece of what whole, exactly?) practically demands a curator operating on the slippery slope between conservation and reenactment: Lehrer-Graiwer’s own blurring of that boundary facilitates a continuing line of inquiry—and dialogue—initiated by the artists, rather than relegating such questions, conclusively, to history.