One of Punk Archaeology seminal documents is “Rock My Religion,” the 1984 video by Dan Graham. Although better known as a conceptual artist, Graham was ingrained in New York’s punk and post-punk music scene. “Rock My Religion” makes a historical argument, attributing the origins of punk to the radical religious experiences of early Puritans like the shaking of the Shakers. Many have followed Graham’s line of thinking. Generally speaking, punk as a movement has rejected the hippie ideal of communal idealism. Bypassing the 60s, however, some punks have aligned themselves with older vernacular forms like folk music. The LA punk legends X, for example, also had a parallel folk project, the Knitters. Billy Bragg is another example. Cowpunk, country punk, or folk punk are recent labels for an older tradition.
“Rock My Religion” is screened at.the retrospective exhibition Dan Graham: Beyond, originating at MoCA in Los Angeles and currently at the Whitney Museum in New York (June 25-October 11, 2009). The show will travel to Minneapolis, at the Walker Art Center (October 31, 2009-January 31, 2010). Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and the Feelies (recently reunited) performed special tributes during the exhibition (see video here). If you cannot make it to New York or Minneapolis, “Rock My Religion” can be previewed here. For the exhibit’s catalog, see Bennett Simpson and Chrissie Isles eds. Dan Graham: Beyond (MIT, 2009). Graham’s essays have been published in Rock My Religion: Writings and Project 1965-1990 (MIT 1994). One of my favorite Graham projects, “Homes for America” for Arts Magazine (1966-67) is a provocative series of photographs documenting the vernacular landscape of New Jersey. Suburban American architecture and punk rock provide inspiration for Graham’s work that has never been successfully branded under a particular art movemnt. Graham is also known for a series of glass and mirror pavilions that link him more directly with the work of Robert Smithson and minimalism.
For reviews of the Graham exhbition at the Whitney, see Roberta Smith, “Bouncing Around a Visual Echo Chamber,” NYT (July 3, 2009), pp. C19, 21, and Randy Kennedy, “A Round Peg,” NYT (June 28, 2009) pp. AR 1, 24. Kennedy begins with a question that best typifies the difficulty of categorizing Graham: “Here’s a good art-world quiz question, one that could stump many an astute insider: What do Sol LeWitt, Sonic Youth, Dean Martin, Mel Brooks, Mel Haggard, Hudson River School painting and midcentury New Jersey tract housing have in common? The answer, Dan Graham.”