Daniel Birnbaum

  • Nadja, C’est moi, c’est encore moi (It’s Me, It’s Me Again), 1926, lipstick and pencil on paper, 3 5⁄8 × 4 5⁄8". From “The Witch’s Cradle.”


    I COUNT NINE robust solo exhibitions by male contemporary artists in palaces scattered across Venice: Georg Baselitz, Anish Kapoor, Anselm Kiefer, Markus Lüpertz, Hermann Nitsch, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Daniel Richter, Ugo Rondinone, and Stanley Whitney. I later realize that there are even more, but nine is the number of “malic moulds” in Marcel Duchamp’s Bachelor Machine, the male part of his The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass), 1915–23. Wearing uniforms, they represent masculine types, and they make me think of the central exhibition, curated by Cecilia Alemani, as

  • Vivian Suter, Untitled, date unknown, mixed media on paper, 99 5⁄8 × 55 1⁄8".

    Vivian Suter

    I HAVE NO CLUE what Mick Jagger is trying to communicate in “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” but I always liked the explosive opening line: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.” And in front of Vivian Suter’s rough canvases at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, the lyrics suddenly make sense. These works were born in thunderstorms. Rain, wind, and muddy waters are factors as important as the intentionality and craftmanship of the artist.

    The moisture, the mold, and the dirt of the artist’s flooded studio and the surrounding jungle are as important as the pigments, oils, and acrylics applied to the untreated

  • Christian Boltanski, Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 2010. Photo: Didier Plowy.


    IT WAS SNOWING SO HEAVILY that winter afternoon in Moscow that Christian Boltanski and I had trouble finding our way back to the Lenin Museum. This was in 2005. We were in town for the first installment of the Moscow Biennial, which took place in dusty old buildings near Red Square. Visibility was limited to a few feet. Dressed in black, as always, the artist looked like a dark shadow in front of me. Occasionally he disappeared into the white void.

    There he is. Now he’s gone. That image was the first thing that came to mind when I heard this past July that Boltanski had died at the age of

  • Hilma af Klint at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, 1885.  © The Hilma af Klint Foundation.


    FOR MONTHS, I’ve been spending evenings working on the Hilma af Klint catalogue raisonné. I regularly doze off with some book about hermetic traditions on my chest. The other night, I read about Giordano Bruno’s theory that the universe was originally composed entirely of primordial, indivisible, immaterial entities, or monads, that ebbed and flowed hither and thither in the immensity of space. That motion lulled me to sleep, and I dreamed about monads that looked like glass beads arranged in intricate symmetries. It was the start of a new phase of lucid dreaming.

    Lucid dreaming—during which you

  • Stephen Prina and Germano Celant driving to California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles, September 1979. Photo: Luciano Perna/Archives.


    THERE ARE ENDLESS STORIES about Germano Celant, the truly imposing impresario who died of Covid-19 in April at the age of seventy-nine. Since his passing, he has been called the “North Star of contemporary art,” and “one of the last, if not the last, great myth-maker[s].” He has been compared to Zorro and dubbed a God. But he was also a contradictory figure. While some describe him as an extraordinarily sensitive curator, one who was always on the artist’s side, others saw him as an art-world player who could be utterly ruthless when pursuing his ambitions. “I don’t feel like a man of power,”

  • Ronald Jones. Photo: Royal College of Art, London.
    passages September 12, 2019

    Ronald Jones (1952–2019)

    HOW WILL ANYONE fill the void Ronald Jones leaves behind? The spaces he created could only be inhabited by him. Ron was an interdisciplinary experimentalist, a perverse conceptualist, a virtuoso educator. He was the most charming of mythomaniacs and a quintessential American who spent almost two decades in Europe, primarily in Stockholm and London.

    It was in New York in the late 1980s, however, that he gained prominence as an artist. In those days he was the “self-styled mayor of SoHo,” as one of his best friends put it, surrounded by admirers and closely connected to some of the best galleries.


    Curated by Lucia Aspesi and Fiammetta Griccioli

    Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s work traces the boundaries between the natural and the artificial, the human and the animal. This survey of the Catalan artist’s oeuvre will present almost two dozen of his key pieces from the past twenty years, many of which were inspired by the Brazilian avant-garde of the 1960s and ’70s. In Elegancia y renuncia (Elegance and Resignation), 2011, for example, he inscribes geometric shapes onto a dried leaf through which light is projected. The HangarBicocca’s vast exhibition spaces will be partitioned by transparent

  • Jasper Johns, Painting Bitten by a Man, 1961, encaustic on canvas mounted on type plate, 9 1/2 × 6 7/8". © Jasper Johns/VAGA, New York/DACS, London.

    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


    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

  • Pavel Filonov, Formula of Spring, 1922–23, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 × 39 3/8". Neue Galerie, Kassel.


    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


    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.


    Because of Deepak Unnikrishnan’s

  • Mika Rottenberg, Cosmic Generator (Yiwu) (work in progress), still from the video component of a mixed-media installation. From Skulptur Projekte Münster.

    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