Jeff Preiss remembers Dan Graham: The years at the ORCHARD Gallery

Jeff Preiss in Dan Graham's Sonic Youth Pavilion, Museion, 2023. Photo: Daniele Fiorentino

On the occasion of the screening of a selection of films by Jeff Preiss, as part of the exhibition Time Frame curated by Saim Demircan (09.06. – 03.03.2023), we asked him to share with us some memories of the artist Dan Graham. 

 Dan Graham’s Sonic Youth Pavillon, part of the Museion Collection, was the setting in which the films were screened. These films by Jeff Preiss were made during his residency at the Orchard Gallery in New York, of which also Dan Graham was friend and supporter.

 

I first met Dan Graham sometime around 30 years ago.

My partner then, Rebecca Quaytman had been hired as his assistant though Marion Goodman Gallery. The situation was little strange because Dan was traveling in Europe with no date to return. In fact, there was no way to reach him and no one had heard from him for weeks. More weeks passed and our worries multiplied until one day he just appeared, and all since has seemed inevitable.

To become Dan’s friend was to take repeated tours of his world view, put forth in a stream of staccato pronouncements, until you become a node in its matrix. At last you’d see yourself reflected in the constellation and recognize you’re required for its completeness. Astrology was, of course, how everyone was categorized and interrelated. His mastery of mapping this interconnectivity which included apparently everyone was astounding.

With me, he insisted my sign wasn’t what is indicated by my birthday, and rather than disagree, I began identifying as a Virgo to suit his reading of my personality.

In 2005 Rebecca, myself, and 10 other assorted friends founded the gallery ORCHARD, a three year undertaking that was part response to a war criminal having been reelected president, part undercover operation of institutional critique, and part social hub for the extended family to which Dan was patriarch.

ORCHARD’s inaugural project was producing Dan’s unrealized Project For Slide Projector (1966) a work that predates and anticipates his later pavilions. In its original form, it was a set of instructions to photograph in 35mm transparency, the elevations of four concentrically fitted glass cubes. Each time the camera completed a rotation another cube of glass panes would be nested, multiplying and fracturing what’s seen in reflection (the photographer and ORCHARD itself). This marked the beginning of ORCHARD’s three year program, and by being given the piece as an edition to represent, it also acted as our sustaining financial armature.  Dan was ever present.

Prior to our signing the lease for the storefront at 47 Orchard Street, I planned to make a set of films using the gallery as a studio. This last June I was invited to MUSEION to instal the ORCHARD Documents on the monitors inside of Dan’s Sonic Youth Pavilion which is housed in the museum’s publicly open Passage. I had no doubt about this being the best possible context for their display.

Once the films were up and running (the first in succession being a document of making Dan’s slide piece) the effect of the screens bouncing among the pavilion’s kaleidoscopic reflections produced an epiphany: Virtually everything I think of as being the mechanics of film language can be demonstrated in Dan’s cyclical reworking of inside/outside, you/me, now/then, and seeing yourself see.

As per usual Dan summed it up.

Dan was famously dangerous to disagree with, but our friendship somehow allowed for more differences in taste than I imagined he could tolerate (I was proud and astonished when he asked I select from my collection a playlist of music he had previously dismissed ).  It took until recently for me to finally understand where our perspectives were closely joined: having both been formed in suburbia… and both being interested in the disembodied psyche… where Dan’s refections and cinema can operate as equivalent projections of self.

When the moving images seen in the pavilion are literally of Dan at ORCHARD, it comes full circle. The pavilion reflects the image of ORCHARD aspiring to Dan’s program for the pavilion: to be a fun house, a place for youth, and a photo op for parents (me).

In an interview with another old friend of ours, Michael Smith, Dan responds to a reading of his pavilions, that they can be seen as a “sociological critique of alienation”. Dan responded plainly: “It’s the opposite”. He saw them as an argument for and magnifier of social unity.

 

– Jeff Preiss, July 2023