Hanne Darboven

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deconstruction, everyday life, identity, perception, ritual, space, time
Visual Arts (collage, Conceptual Art, text)
Europe, Western
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October 30, 2008
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Discipline and Obsession

Hanne Darboven´s works pose a challenge to the observer. They offer visual stimuli in reduced form only, dry row upon row of pages. They follow an order which is not easy to understand, a stringent logic peculiar to the author, which does not represent or correspond to any common logical system. With her records, her countless notes on hundreds of thousands of paper sheets, Darboven creates a parallel universe, in which she transforms time into space and – since she began realising her works in musical form – space into time.
Born in 1941, the artist grew up in an upper-middle class business family in Hamburg-Harburg. In 1966, while she was still studying the visual arts, she moved to New York for two years, where she got to know Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard and Kasper König, who supported her artistic work. It was in New York, where conceptual art and Minimal Art were developing at the time, that she created her first geometrical constructions on graph paper. In 1968, Darboven began numerical additions with calendar dates. The starting point was the cross sum of the date, the so-called K value, which is named after the construction and the boxes which visualise this value.

Darboven views her work as following in the tradition of writing and book-making, in stark contrast to the visual arts. Either by hand or by typewriter, she writes works which can comprise many thousands of individual pages. In 1974, she began work on her extensive "Schreibzeit / Writing Time“, which investigated the relationships between art and politics through accidentally encountered and transcribed texts from literature, politics and philosophy. In her equally large-scale "Kulturgeschichte / Culture History", which she completed between 1980 and 1983, she used mainly visual materials – photos, magazines, postcards and posters. Since then she has dedicated her works to scientists (Alexander von Humboldt, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz), musicians (Ludwig van Beethoven), writers (Allfred Döblin, Gertrude Stein), politicians (Fredrick the Great, Otto von Bismarck), artists (Pablo Picasso) or themes such as "inventions which have changed us“ or the "children of this world“. In 1980, Darboven began putting her numerical combinations to music through a simple principle: the number 0 stands for the note D, the 1 for E, the 2 for F, the 3 for G etc.

Darboven´s works are puristic. They are formally confined to the primary cultural techniques of writing and arithmetic. Her working materials are also simple: pencil, notepad, exercise books. Day in, day out, the artist completes a certain quota of work for various projects she creates in parallel. Once the concept has been determined, these require no innovation, rather a kind of processing, the consistently repeated and concentrated performance of an operation. When she talks about her work, therefore, Darboven speaks not of creativity, but of "doing" and fulfilment of duty: "I have a clear conscience; I have written my thousands of pages. In the sense of this responsibility – work, conscience, fulfilment of duty – I am no worse a worker than someone who has built a road.“

This "doing“ gives the artist great assurance with regard to what has to be accomplished every day. Completing her daily quota is a duty which requires a strictly organised and disciplined life. This focus on "doing" specific things at a specified time throws up the question whether Darboven does not also represent action art. Each individual leaf is unique, it is produced on a pre-determined day which is identified as "today" and ultimately crossed off. Her "doing" appears to be directed in equal measure at the action and its temporal uniqueness as it is at the final, materialised result. Darboven made a conscious decision not to pursue an emotional creativity: "I can only produce emotional art by constantly exposing myself to some form of intoxication – and I refuse to engage in this artificial form.“

With her focus on the spatial visualisation of passing time, her work is closely related to that of Roman Opa?ka or On Kawara, who, since the mid-60s, have also been engaged in extremely constant and determined attempts to grasp and portray time. Since this period, the Polish-French artist Opa?ka, has continued his work "1965/1-?", in which he counts from the number 1 and paints the numbers on canvasses of exactly the same size. He simultaneously says the number he is painting in Polish and records this on tape. In 1966, at roughly the same time, the Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara began his "Date Paintings“: a continuous and, theoretically at least, temporally infinite series of dates, which he abbreviates daily in the format typical of the country in which he happens to be painting.

Darboven´s "Kalendergeschichten (Kalender 1976 b) / Calendar Stories (Calendar 1976 b)“, from 1976, can be regarded as typical of her work. It is composed of 46 boards with a total of 183 sheets, on each of which there are two days of the year 1976 with their respective cross sum (e.g. 5+1+7+6=19 for 5 January or 14+1+7+6=28 for 14 January). She illustrates this cross sum in steps of five. Each entry is supplemented by a stamp "2=1,2; 1+1=1,2 etc.“ – a frequently repeated formula of Darboven. On each side of her daily sums are columns which are filled with her typical writing sheets and completely crossed out.

Darboven´s work, which appears so rational at first glance, throws up many questions: what is she trying to say? Is this "doing“ really rational – or actually an expression of a terrible obsession? Without doubt, her operations follow an inner logic – but where is its relevance outside the artist´s microcosm? And how can these works be absorbed – or rather: can they be absorbed? Is it not necessary for the beholder also to experience the work in real time, in order to get a proper idea of the artwork? This would be impossible, since the time the works are referring to has already passed. Or can the dates perhaps be seen as the "emancipation" of each individual day or even as a democratisation of history – since historical dates exist side-by-side with "normal“ days, which hold meaning for the individual only?
Author: Petra Stegmann


Hanne Darboven was born in 1941 in Munich. She grew up in Hamburg-Harburg. From 1962, she studied visual arts under Wilhelm Grimm and Almir Mavignier at the Hamburg Academy of Visual Arts and in 1966, during these studies, she moved to New York for two years after which she returned to Hamburg, where she still lives and works to this day.

Darboven is a laureate of the Edwin Scharff Prize (1986) and the Lichtwark Prize (1994) awarded by the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg, as well as the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg´s International Prize for Visual Arts (1995).

She has been a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts since 1997 and has been honorary professor of visual arts at the Hamburg Academy of Visual Arts since 2000. Also in the year 2000, she established the Hanne Darboven Foundation, which aims to preserve her work and promote young artists.


Group Exhibitions (Selected)

2007 25 Jahre GALERIE CRONE GALERIE CRONE Berlin, Germany / PERSONAL STRUCTURES Galerie Hafenrichter & Flügel, Nürnberg, Germany / Das abc der Bilder Pergamonmuseum, Berlin, Germany / Numerica Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena, Italy / Das schwarze Quadrat, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Germany / Klang im Bild, Opelvillen Rüsselsheim, Germany / Mapas, Cosmogonias e Puntos de Referencia CGAC, Santiago de Compostela, Spain / MAGICLINE Museion, Bozen / 2006 Matière Grise, Curated by Joseph Kosuth, Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, France / 2005 Künstlerische Konzepte als Druchsache Katalog Künstlerbuch Objectbuch Postcarte Plakat, Galerie M + R Fricke, Berlin, Germany / 2003 The DaimlerChrysler Collection, more than 80 artists out of more than 60 years, Museum für neue Kunst zkm Karlsruhe, Germany / 2002 Markings, Constructing Form through Drawing, MAK, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria / The Collective Unconsciousness, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland / 2000 - 2001 Many Colored Objects Placed Side by Side to Form a Row of Many Colored Objects, Collection of Annick and Anton Herbert, Casino Luxembourg, Luxembourg / Forum d´Art Contemporain Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment, curated by Milena Kalinovska, National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic / 2000 Illuminations, Art from two milleniums, Museet for Samtidskunst, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway / Galerie Meert Rihoux, Brussels / 1999 - 2000 Carnegie International 1999/2000, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA / 1999 Musikwerke Bildender Künstler, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin; Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, Germany / 1996 Hanne Darboven: Evolution Leibniz 1986, Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany / 1990 Hanne Darboven: Primitive Zeit/Uhrzeit, Primitive Time/Clock Time, Goldie Paley Gallery/Moore College of Art & Design Philadelphia, USA / 1987 Hanne Darboven: Theatre 1985, Elisabeth Kaufmann, Zurich, Switzerland / 1980 Hanne Darboven: Schreibzeit 75-80, InK, Halle für internationale neue Kunst, Zurich, Switzerland

Solo Exhibitions (Selected)

2008 Hanne Darboven: Editionen Klosterfelde Berlin, Germany / 2007 Hanne Darboven / Claudia Wieser Galerie Elisabeth Kaufmann, Zürich, Switzerland / Galerie Greta Meert, Brussels, Belgium / 2006 Hanne Darboven - Diary, 1987, Martine Aboucaya, Paris, France / Hommage à Picasso, Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Germany / Ein Jahrhundert ABC, Galerie Crone, Andreas Osarek, Berlin, Germany / 2005 Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, inc., New York, USA / 2004 Querschnitt. Hanne Darboven in den Phoenix-Fabrikhallen, Phoenix Kulturstiftung, Hamburg, Germany / Hanne Darboven – Ein Jahrhundert ABC, Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, Germany / Phoenix Art, Hamburg, Germany / 2003 Hanne Darboven: Bücher, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, Austria / Hanneles Tierleben, Galerie Elisabeth Kaufmann, Zurich, Switzerland / Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich, Switzerland / Galerie Meert Rihoux, Brussels, Belgium / 2002 Hanne Darboven - Kosmos - ?85 - Weltreise - In Gedanken an Humboldt - Kosmos, Galerie Jule Kewenig, Frechen, Germany / Hanne Darboven: Bücher, 1966-2002, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster, Germany / Hanne Darboven: Bücher, 1966-2002, Ein Jahrhundert, Galerie Ascan Crone, Berlin, Germany / 2000 De Zonnehof, Amersfoort, The Netherlands / Menschen und Landschaften, Schaffhausen Hallen für Neue Kunst Galerie Klosterfelde, Berlin, Germany / Leben, leben / Life, living, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, Pa., USA / Hanne Darboven. Ein Jahrhundert- JohannWolfgang von Goethe gewidmet. Museum für Moderne Kunst. Frankfurt a. M. , Germany / Das Jahr 1974, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, USA / Hanne Darboven. 9 x 11 = 99, Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf, Germany / Diary 1993, Galerie Klosterfelde, Berlin, Germany / Museet for Samtids Kunst, Oslo, Sweden / 2000/1999 Hommage à Picasso, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany / Das Frühwerk, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany / 1995 Galerie Meert Rihoux, Brussels, Belgium / 1989 Galerie Meert Rihoux, Brussels, Belgium


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Rational / Irrational

(08 November 08 - 11 January 09)
Calendar Stories (Calendar 1976 b)