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"Cathedrals of Thought"
The Press on Hanne Darboven’s Installation "Hommage à Picasso" at the Deutsche Guggenheim


Hanne Darboven’s commissioned work "Hommage à Picasso" covers the walls of the Deutsche Guggenheim with a sea of 9,720 written pages contained in 270 frames. The work is a transcription of the last decade of the 20th century. Darboven juxtaposes her notations with a lithography of a famous painting: Picasso’s "Woman with Turkish Headdress" from 1955. The installation is complemented by a series of sculptures ranging from a bronze bust of Picasso to donkeys crafted from woven birch branches. The exhibition is acoustically accompanied by Darboven’s composition "Opus 60." The press has proved to be highly impressed by the monumental installation.

"It doesn’t matter what artist is showing at the Deutsche Guggenheim – each time, the first thing you ask yourself is how the long, narrow space will be transformed this time? (…) Over the course of the past several years, a large number of prominent artists have left their mark here, and conversely the exhibition location has affected each of the works presented. The specific combination of work and location in Hanne Darboven’s Hommage à Picasso, however, has been condensed into a veritable event. Suddenly, the Deutsche Guggenheim is no longer an ordinary exhibition space, but a pantheon – for the artist of the century Picasso as well as for the creator of this installation." This is how Nicola Kuhn begins her review of the exhibition in the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel. For Kuhn, its interest lies in the encounter between two different "temperaments that could hardly be any more different (…) on the one hand the painter whose passion and power of invention went beyond every art historical standard, on the other the veteran of Minimal Art who has been using numbers and signs since decades to create a work that seeks to ward off the phenomenon of time." Kuhn found the 9,720 written pages covering the walls of the exhibition space to be "overwhelming." The exhibition hall reminds her of a "pharaoh’s grave … because the pages are presented in 270 hand-painted picture frames whose patterns are reminiscent of hieroglyphics." Despite the force of the presentation, a "subtle dialogue" arises in the show between "Picasso’s emotionally charged painting and Darboven’s slavish writing exercises that elevate the passing of time to an image.

The Hamburg-based artist juxtaposes the drama of history and daily occurrence with the regularity of her numerical columns. Whoever enters into the work discovers the emotionality behind it. And suddenly, a Picasso appears in the midst of this cosmos – it makes perfect sense."

For Harald Falckenberg from the Kunstzeitung, the installation is "one of the Hanne Darboven’s key works," in which she positions her "number script" in a web of references. One crucial element are the frames containing her written pages. "Normally, Hanne Darboven is satisfied with cheap frames from department stores. Here, however, they have been fabricated and painted by Polish craftsmen taking the frame of the Picasso lithography as their model. It’s a matter of references (for instance to Picasso’s pet goat Esmeralda), quotes and repetitions, and finally of the trivialization of the mimetic art tradition. To Darboven’s mind, Picasso is a symbol of this development, the last great painter."

To Ingeborg Ruthe from the Berliner Zeitung, Hanne Darboven is Germany’s "most consistent conceptual artist." Her work carries "time and history into an obstinate system of order" that turns into a "spatial sculpture" encompassing the world. With her Hommage à Picasso , she is trying to "get a clearer grasp of the role of quotation and reverence in art." In her review, Ruth draws attention to the elegant donkeys standing at the end of the exhibition hall that Polish broom-makers crafted from birch branches. "Darboven uses these archaic animal figures to inquire both into how art is actually created and the connection between concept and handicraft. Not least, she refutes the prejudice that her ‘number acrobatics’ are overly intellectual." Through the music accompanying the exhibition, this "cathedral of the written" is further emotionally charged with "a pathos that does not seek to overwhelm, but to touch gently, elevating thought upwards into an imaginary dome."

Gabriele Walde from the Berliner Morgenpost also feels transposed by the installation to a sacred location. To her, it seems "as though time had stood still, so that the viewer might become aware of it." In the face of Hanne Darboven’s "cathedral of thought," she arrives at the conclusion that "art can hardly have a more powerful effect."