A Belated R.I.P.: Hanne Darboven

This post comes months too late, for sure. But it was only yesterday, when I popped into the Museum of Modern Art to see the Compass in Hand exhibit, that I learned one of my favorite contemporary artists, Hanne Darboven, had passed away from cancer back in March. There on the wall of the show was one of her works on paper, with the dates 1941-2009 beneath her name. I was stunned, not so much because she had died, but because I had missed the news when it happened.

Hanne Darboven. (Courtesey of Hanne Darboven Stiftung.)

Hanne Darboven. (Courtesey of Hanne Darboven Stiftung.)

Darboven was a German conceptual artist whose work I first saw at the now-closed Dia Center for the Arts on 22nd Street in Chelsea back in the mid-1990s. She created large installation pieces, some of which were on graph paper and consisted of handwritten text, drawings and diagrams, often using numerical sequences in repetitive fashion. Or Der Spiegel covers. Calendars were a recurring theme. Her works can be oddly simple, complex, mathematical and mesmerizing all at the same time.

But what stayed with me most was the music she composed to accompany her exhibition—Kulturgeschichte 1880-1983—at the Dia: Opus 17A. Darboven was a pianist, briefly, according to the liner notes, before she studied art. The hour-long piece was written for a double bass and, like her visual work, is repetitive and hypnotic.

As the person I was dating at the time said, “Please don’t listen to this when you’re alone. This is music by which to commit suicide.” I laughed, but disagreed. (I’ve been listening to it all afternoon while working, and it’s actually had quite a calming effect.)

Here are links to some of Darboven’s online work from Dia, to a more in-depth write-up about her from the blog When That Helicopter Comes, and to a sample of her music (Requiem Opus 19, Buch 1) from Hanne Darboven Stiftung.

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