In late January of 2015, a tree stood wavering on the edge of Detroit’s burnt-out Grixdale neighborhood. A loud, old engine revved. A 100-foot rope tightened. A car strained forward. The tree followed, snapping and dropping into the overgrown yard of an abandoned house. A group of bearded men looked on from the front yard of a fire-ravaged structure across the street. Satisfaction and relief filled them as the final rays of sunlight scattered into the gray horizon. They had lost two ropes and a chainsaw in bringing down the tree, but they comforted themselves with the thought that the abandoned house and the surrounding telephone lines stood unharmed.
They were pretty far from Detroit’s refurbished downtown. Years ago, this neighborhood had succumbed to the rot brought on by the crack wars. Inhabitants fled, homes were torched, and the long blocks, once designed for cars, were left sparsely populated. In 2015, it remained largely abandoned. Sometimes, there were residual flare-ups of violence and theft. Some ways down the road, there remained a crack house. In this quiet, largely forgotten place, however, adjacent to the vistas of empty lots, under the canopy of old-growth trees, there was a new community growing. They lived amongst the neglected red brick houses and chose to call themselves Fireweed, after the pioneer plant species that takes over the landscape after a forest fire. More… “Why Does a Tree Fall in Detroit?”
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…