Feelings of anticipation arose within as I crossed the threshold of a two-way mirrored pavilion, "Girl's Make-Up Room." It's one of Dan Graham's glass and perforated metal, large-scale pieces in the conceptual artist's first ever career encompassing show in the U.S., "Dan Graham: Beyond," which is up at the Whitney Museum of American Art. How would I see myself in the mirrored and metal reflective surfaces? How would I perceive other people? How would others see me?
Much as fashion and make-up afford ways in which people show themselves to the world -- and can be seen by others -- Graham's eye-popping sculpture-and-architecture as art tosses back images of one's self, images of others milling about the Whitney's expansive fourth floor gallery, and the occasional look at another visitor looking back at themselves in the pavilion's facade.
These images arrive via the mirrored glass panels, inside and outside the structure, and in other surfaces, such as reflective stainless steel and transparent glass interior panels that allow people to peer through the walls of the make-up room piece, while simultaneously glimpsing images of themselves. The effect is as if one were viewing a double-exposed photograph.
Museum goers' responses to the pavilions placed throughout the gallery amid other pieces -- like the film "Rock My Religion," flat-screen videos, carousel slide shows and magazine layouts displayed as art -- ran a gamut from amusement to wonderment to bemusement. An older women in a summery dress and straw hat asked a security guard if "anyone would be around to tell us what this all means." (The guard said he didn't know.) A white-haired man in polo shirt and shorts asked me if I "understood" what Graham was saying.
Inside "Girl's Make-Up Room," (1998-2000) I saw my slender, 5-foot, 8-inch frame morph from fun house distention to narrow-band condensation in a blink of the glass panels. Then it was gone altogether as the adjacent curvilinear panels reflected a knotty wood pattern like the one in a rectangular wood stool standing in the space, a pattern that called to mind a silk moirÃ©. The moirÃ© pulsed into new shapes when eyed from different vantage points.
Three lipsticks standing upright on the wood stool -- marked with lipstick traces -- and the perforated metal forming the space's remaining interior wall more literally posed questions of personal presentation and imagery. Of seeing one's self as fragmented or whole; in pieces or in sum.
How much of one's true self does the world see?