Daniel Birnbaum

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    1 JASPER JOHNS (ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS, LONDON; CURATED BY ROBERTA BERNSTEIN AND EDITH DEVANEY) Before I knew anything about Jasper Johns, I encountered his work in a class taught by the late, great Nelson Goodman, who seemed to appreciate the painter’s work mainly as a demonstration of the riddles at the center of his own philosophical investigations. The most dramatic of these concerned the legendary “grue paradox”: Professor Goodman would point at a projected slide of a green target painting and say something puzzling like, “All these paintings by Jasper could be grue,” explaining that grue

  • WILDEST DREAMS

    FROM MUSEUMS TO HOLLYWOOD, visionary artists and filmmakers—Paul McCarthy, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Jeff Koons, and Marina Abramović, to name a few—are taking on ambitious virtual-reality projects. Writer and artist DOUGLAS COUPLAND—who has prognosticated some of the most critical generational shifts of our time—and curator DANIEL BIRNBAUM met to discuss these endeavors and the future of technology and desire.

    DANIEL BIRNBAUM: Have you seen anything memorable in VR?

    DOUGLAS COUPLAND: Yes . . . it was a beautiful summer evening three years ago. I’d invited a few friends over, and one of them arrived with the most recent Oculus Rift headset. I had two VR experiences. First, I flew over a Cajun swamp in pursuit of purple lights in the distance. Then I collected asteroids in the rings of Saturn. No sound.

    The twist was that when I removed the goggles, I looked at my favorite room in the world, filled with good friends on that beautiful summer evening, and I thought, Man, what a dump.

    The thing about VR is

  • THINKING TWICE

    HELL IS FULL OF GOOD INTENTIONS, but heaven is full of good works: This maxim, attributed to a medieval French abbot, is one that contemporary curators should bear in mind. The team behind Documenta 14, earnestly dubbed “Learning from Athens,” has issued so many well-intended progressive statements and condemnations of the neocolonial, patriarchal, heteronormative world order that it’s hardly surprising the exhibition occasionally feels like a trip to quinquennial perdition. The good news: This Documenta is not a monolithically pious exercise, but a multiplicity of proposals. It involves radio

  • Summer Reading

    GLENN LIGON

    Stuart Hall (1932–2014), the Jamaican-born British theorist who was one of the founders of the field of cultural studies, gave a series of talks at Harvard in 1994. The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation (Harvard University Press), edited and introduced by Kobena Mercer with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr., draws from those lectures and promises to be essential reading for those seeking to understand Hall’s tremendous impact on scholars, artists, and filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Glenn Ligon is a New York–based artist.

    ASMA NAEEM

    Because of Deepak Unnikrishnan’s

  • the Venice Biennale, Documenta 14, and Skulptur Projekte Münster

    RUMORS BEGAN SWIRLING this winter about the two processions with horses that would launch Documenta 14 in April, with all the exhibition’s previous directors volunteering to participate in a ride from Athens to Kassel to inaugurate this year’s iteration. Originally, the Athens parade, modeled on a procession found on one of the Parthenon’s friezes, was to include miniature Skyrian ponies, which sounded rather unheroic, but apparently Greece’s Central Archaeological Council intervened and normal-size horses were ridden by all. Another favorite speculation was whether the Greeks should be grateful

  • “MICHAEL RIEDEL: CV”

    Frankfurt-based Michael Riedel is the creator of a parallel universe replete with artworks, artifacts, and cultural situations that look just like their counterparts in our own reality, only subtly distorted. Taking the résumé as both material and structure, “CV” will cover the period from 1994 to 2017 and will include barely known early works that anticipate the artist’s more visible artistic projects involving publishing, recordings, gastronomy (the Freitagsküche in Frankfurt, for example), and the restless activities in the studio/performance space Oskar-von-Miller-Straße

  • Philippe Parreno

    With this retrospective, Philippe Parreno returns to Porto, the city in which he created the large Earthwork that appeared as an extraterrestrial landscape in his film C.H.Z. (Continuously Habitable Zones), 2011. Curated by the museum’s own Suzanne Cotter, the exhibition will include major works from almost three decades, including the installation Quasi Objects: Marquee (cluster). Disklavier Piano. My Room is a Fish Bowl, 2014, in which floating fish appear to control an intricate choreography of light and sound. Like many of Parreno’s works, it suggests a synthesis,

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    1 PHILIPPE PARRENO (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY ANDREA LISSONI WITH VASSILIS OIKONOMOPOULOS) Parreno has turned the Turbine Hall into a mesmerizing machine producing light, sound, cinematic effects, and choreography: Inflated fish float in the air, huge planes reminiscent of Russian Constructivism ascend and descend inscrutably in the semidarkness, and a flickering apparatus seems to send out signals that trigger reactions throughout the entire museum. There are echoes of Duchamp and Cage, and even more obviously Richard Hamilton. But this expansive machinery goes beyond such precursors in

  • FLORAL IMPERATIVE: THE ART OF WILLEM DE ROOIJ

    WHETHER AS A CREATOR of ravishing bouquets and sumptuous textiles or as a curator of disparate but uniformly stunning objects, WILLEM DE ROOIJ has never shied away from beauty. But, as DANIEL BIRNBAUM argues in the pages that follow, de Rooij has been equally unflinching in his insistence on the political and historical dimensions of aesthetic experience, from imperialist tropes that have persisted across centuries to the modernist tension between allegory and abstraction. In advance of the Dutch artist’s exhibition at Frankfurt’s Museum für Moderne Kunst–MMK 2 next month—a show that will trace the arc of de Rooij’s career, from works he created with Jeroen de Rijke to his practice as it has unfolded since his collaborator’s untimely death in 2006—Birnbaum elucidates de Rooij’s seductive investigations of form, both its engagement and its autonomy.

    IN THE LATE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, Dutch artist Melchior d’Hondecoeter painted a suite of curious avian fantasias. These pictures, whose extravagantly plumed subjects are depicted in elegant gardens or unspoiled wilderness, have lost none of their charm, but viewers today may feel a certain uneasiness in their contemplation. If you are used to thinking about art in terms of its historical and political contexts, you can hardly help noticing that in these beguiling scenes we find European and “exotic” birds improbably commingling under the dominion of the Western eye. Though d’Hondecoeter’s artistic

  • “Anri Sala: Answer Me”

    Anyone who has followed Anri Sala’s career will have noticed the key role acoustics play in his films and installations: modernist music, free jazz, punk rock, even just the sound of a lone snare drum. Often distorted through delays and echoes, a tune might at first be indecipherable: In Tlatelolco Clash, 2011, for instance, a recognizable version of the Clash’s hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go” emerges only toward the end. As in many of Sala’s works, the fractured music seems to echo the historical and political ruptures of the site where it is performed—here,

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    1 ROBERT GOBER (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ANN TEMKIN AND PAULINA POBOCHA) “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor” made the most enigmatic of artists even more inscrutable—and even more attractive. Although I first came across his strange sinks more than a quarter of a century ago, I still haven’t come to grips with Gober’s work; each time I returned to this show, the artist’s hyperreal, exquisitely rendered limbs, candles, and hairy legs got even weirder and better. “Minimal forms with maximum content,” as John Russell smartly characterized these intense objects back in 1985. But

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    1 “KANDINSKY, MALEVICH, MONDRIAN: THE INFINITE WHITE ABYSS” (K20 KUNSTSAMMLUNG NORDRHEIN-WESTFALEN, DÜSSELDORF; CURATED BY MARION ACKERMANN AND ISABELLE MALZ WITH ANSGAR LORENZ) In a nice twist to the ubiquity of the modernist black square, this excellent show explored the use of white in the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian. The monochrome labyrinth of the exhibition space itself conveyed the sense of walking around inside a monumental Mondrian painting. Iconic works were given ample space presented alone on individual walls, while four compact laboratories introduced

  • Lygia Clark

    WHEN ONE OF YOUR HANDS touches the other, something peculiar happens: You become aware of the strange ambivalence that makes your body different from all other things. Your hand is an object in the world, but it is also something you experience from within. And the hand you touch is also both an object and a feeling, sensing part of your embodied self. The touched thing is also touching. This ambiguity of corporeal life—of the active/passive, inside/outside, subject/object—is what phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty spent his life trying to elucidate, and in the late 1950s, Brazilian

  • “Sturtevant: Double Trouble”

    This first major US retrospective of Sturtevant’s work, which will include some fifty pieces made between 1961 and 2014, is necessary. It is necessary both for the artist, who adopted style as her medium, and for MoMA, which, in seeing its canon reflected in her oeuvre, might come to understand itself better. Half a century ago, Sturtevant realized that if you take a work of art—a painting by Jasper Johns or a silk-screened print by Andy Warhol, say—and repeat it, something becomes visible. She called that thing the “understructure” of art.

  • Roberto Cuoghi

    There really is no one like Roberto Cuoghi, the brilliant Italian weirdo who launched his career as an artist by transforming himself into his own father. Physically. I will never forget encountering the young man on a terrace in Turin, a bit chunky with a gray beard, wearing a 1970s-style suit and glasses. He looked sixty-five. More recent projects are just as demanding and peculiar. Who else would spend two years learning ancient Assyrian well enough to write and perform an imaginary lament from 612 BC, accompanying the singing with his own

  • Roman Signer

    Roman Signer is the only artist that I know of who possesses an official license to blow things up. And it isn’t just for show. The Swiss artist, who creates much of his work outside, takes his sweeping native landscape as his studio, often staging destructive processes and massive performances involving fire. Though this exhibition will be installed predominantly indoors, it will nevertheless feature Signer’s signature alchemical transformations of everyday objects (such as chairs, tables, or a model helicopter) into assemblages of newly exploded

  • Arthur C. Danto

    IT WAS A SNOWY DAY in January 1994 when I knocked on the door of Professor Arthur C. Danto’s office at Columbia University for the first time. He opened it and looked at me with his strangely squinting eyes. I introduced myself as the new guest student from Sweden. “Terrific,” he said—I should definitely meet his Swedish wife. And that very night, unlikely as this might sound, I found myself having martinis at Danto’s apartment on Riverside Drive, with his not-so-Swedish but delightful wife, artist Barbara Westman. They had just been in Stockholm, it turned out, invited by the Nobel

  • “1938: Kunst, Künstler, Politik”

    TO SAY THAT YOU LOVE THE AVANT-GARDE was once proof that you were on the right side of history. That moment is now over, as evidenced by the impeccable timing of the well-researched exhibition “1938: Kunst, Künstler, Politik” (1938: Art, Artists, Politics) at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. Conceived by critic Julia Voss, implemented by curator Eva Atlan, and designed by artist Tobias Rehberger and his studio, the show underscored the complex and traumatic intersections of political and cultural prerogatives during one fateful year.

    That annus horribilis is catching up to us. The recent discovery

  • “Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Splendid Hotel”

    A luminous pavilion of glass and steel opened in 1887, Madrid’s technologically advanced Palacio de Cristal was capable of simulating equatorial climate conditions and was intended to showcase the exotic flora of the Philippines, a Spanish colony until 1898. In short, the structure—now owned by the Reina Sofía—already sounds like a work by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, so it is no surprise that the French artist was drawn to the site. In characteristic form, she is offering few details in advance of her show, a site-specific intervention. But given that the

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    1 “DANCING AROUND THE BRIDE: CAGE, CUNNINGHAM, JOHNS, RAUSCHENBERG, AND DUCHAMP” (PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART; CURATED BY CARLOS BASUALDO WITH ERICA F. BATTLE) How many more projects about the influence of Marcel Duchamp can we take? Perhaps not many, but this unusually clever and elegant exhibition about chance, chess, collaboration, and performance, focusing on the circle of Johns, Rauschenberg, Cunningham, and Cage, breathed new life into a topic that already seemed exhausted. Curated in close dialogue with Philippe Parreno, the show managed to dodge all boring forms of pedagogy and succeeded