In these troubled economic times, real estate is a subject of more obsessive interest than usual at dinner parties from Manhattan to Milwaukee. Perhaps it’s time for us to take a longer-range view of the housing market and its endless cycles of boom and bust: Whether you’re a humble tenant or shark-like developer, it should be possible to get a little perspective by examining the great deals of the past.

 

1. The Antique Homemaker

1 BR “Fixer-Upper” in Ancient Babylon: The world’s oldest rental lease is a clay tablet dated to around 2000 B.C., wherein a certain Akhibe leased a house from Mashqu for one shekel of silver a year — about 0.4 ounces. (Prices don’t quite translate, since that amount of silver is only US$7 today). Rental properties at the time were intimate, one-story mud brick affairs…. More…

The houses are all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same. Dan Graham started photographing them in 1965. It was New Jersey. They were photographs of suburban homes and tract housing. The excitement of postwar consumerism had faded by then. A new wave of melancholy was settling on the American mood. Politics were getting hotter. Suburban life was getting duller.

“Dan Graham: Beyond” at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Through Oct. 11, 2009.

Dan Graham — whose work from ’65 to the present is currently on exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art — has made a lot of art since then. But the photographs from the series “Homes for America” still stand out. As they’ve aged, they’ve become more elusive. In the mid-’60s, it was easy to see the polemics… More…