“Rock ‘n’ Roll Show: Unrealised Projects for Children and Boutique Architecture,” Dan Graham’s new exhibition at Hauser and Wirth Zurich [opens Feb. 11], features Eleven Sugar Cubes (1970–2012), a grid of 24 color photographs that first appeared in the June 1970 issue of A.i.A.
He published it with the following text:
I dropped eleven sugar cubes in the sea, after soaking them in detergent, and photographed the results. The presentation constitutes the intended work of art, which was designed to be mass-produced in a publication
Here, the artist explains how that work about entropy and land art ended up in our pages.
I chose to do the Eleven Sugar Cubes in 1970 because I thought the project was very funny and very psychedelic. At the time, I was very interested in comic books, and I wanted to make one of my own. This was before [Emmanuel Guibert’s] graphic novel Alan’s War and after Robert Crumb. I was also thinking about the work of Robert Smithson, who I showed with at the John Daniels Gallery. He was very interested in pollution—not ecology; he thought pollution was kind of mannerist. It was a pretty poison.
So I took the sugar cubes, which were all about LSD, and put them in the polluted water of the bay in Jersey City. I didn’t take it very seriously. Then I took the photographs, and made them into a psychedelic comic strip. They had a strange kind of polluted color.
I don’t remember why I published them in Art in America. I think that it was because it had really good color. The articles were oversimplified, for the general art public. It was almost like reading Reader’s Digest. I actually picked up a recent issue copy of the magazine the other day, and it was very good.
I hadn’t thought about the pieces in a while, but then Rodney Graham, whose work I love, came by my studio, and he really liked them. He’s doing very similar pieces right now, with detergent foaming out of a sink. I greatly admire his opinions because he has a deep understanding of history, and he did the best interview with me ever done. I also showed the piece to my wife, and she thought it was very funny.
Everyone is doing neo-1960s and ’70s these days. But I really think that they misunderstand this complex period. First of all, there was really no “utopia.” There were so many conflicting ways of thinking. My work is nothing like Minimal art. Eleven Sugar Cubes is a classic from the past. But more than anything, it’s just humorous, and I like that in art.
—As told to Brienne Walsh