This is CR Muse, a new series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.
It’s hard to say which element of conceptual artist Hanne Darboven’s body of work is more impressive: the intricate details of hand writing, drawing, and images that she compiled into collections, or the scale and breadth to which she presented them together. Describing her style can be a bit complicated—she allegedly considered herself a writer (having sometimes incorporated the written word into her pieces), but often used elements of music, numbers (once blending the two), and images to create large-scale installations of ideas. Through the use of collections and display, she had a knack for reframing how we see everyday images, symbols, and time.
Born in Munich in 1941—this Sunday marks what would have been her 78th birthday—she began studying music, before attending the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (the University of Fine Arts) in Hamburg at the age of 21. One of her earliest pieces, “Konstruktionen” features what the Guggenheim describes as “a neutral language of numbers in linear constructions using pen, pencil, typewriter, and graph paper as materials,” which represented “an artificial, universal language but also allowed her to mark the passage of time.”
Playing with calendars, numbers, and the idea of diaries and recording, Darboven showcased more mundane and routine aspects of life in a near scientific way. “My work is a recording in the sense of being, it’s working through,” she said in 1966. While other artists tap in to the emotional side of humanity, Darboven’s approach showcased a part of life that is often difficult to express: the everyday.
To this end, her most famous work is perhaps “Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983” (“Cultural History 1880–1983”), which features 19 sculptures, and a staggering total of 1,590 framed pieces, including photographs, magazine covers, postcards, and more, designed to capture both what was happening in society at the time, but her personal story as well. “What I wrote in my writing time, I’ll show you everything in the picture—by the thousands,” she said at the time.
Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s Darboven continued to explore her interests, but did not limit herself to one type of expression. “Mathematical Music” saw her compose music from numbers and sequences, while “Hommage à Picasso” (1995-2006) saw the artist return to the numeric recording of time, summarizing the 20th century.Though Darboven passed away in 2009, her work continues to capture the minds of art fans, particularly those new to Conceptualism. As recently as last year “Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983” was on display in New York, with both her minimalist, organized aesthetic, and her way of collecting/displaying images finding a new context in the age of the internet. To a certain degree, one can draw connections between her work with how we now almost ruthlessly document our lives (and follow the lives of others) on social media; skewing reality with our edits and commentary, we create archives of our lives and the world around us, while also marking the passing of time. END
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