Daniel Birnbaum

  • View of “Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?,” 2010, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Background: Reconstructed panels from Aby Warburg’s “Mnemosyne Atlas,” 1924–29. Foreground: Anonymous Roman statue of Atlas, ca. 49 BC. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

    “Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?”

    LONG FABLED as the father of iconology—indeed, of modern art history—Aby Warburg has of late assumed the role of its crazy uncle. In contradistinction to the plodding, fact-finding, tamed iconography that followed in his wake in the early twentieth century, in recent years Warburg has been revalorized as advancing a radical anachronism, discontinuity, and antipositivist turn in the understanding of images and objects. A leading figure in this revival is Georges Didi-Huberman, who in 2002 published a major study of the visionary German art historian and is a curator of one of the past

  • View of “Christoph Schlingensief,” 2011, German pavilion, Venice. Christoph Schlingensief, A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within: Fluxus Oratorio, 2008. Photo: Kate Lacey.


    WITH JOHN WATERS ON THE JURY, there simply was no chance that Christoph Schlingensief’s pavilion would fail to win the Golden Lion. And that, I think, is an excellent thing. The opening of this year’s Biennale was packed with Germans complaining about their scandalously dreadful pavilion, but, as Waters stated in a recent interview, contemporary art and bad taste have more in common than many are willing to admit. Schlingensief—creator of trash masterpieces such as 100 Years of Adolf Hitler: The Last Hour in the Führer’s Bunker (1989) and The German Chainsaw Massacre (1990)—is certainly

  • Artur Żmijewski, Blindly, 2010, still from a single-channel video, 18 minutes.

    the 8th Gwangju Biennale

    “10,000 LIVES,” THE 2010 GWANGJU BIENNALE, was an ambitious undertaking—attempting nothing less than to get a grasp on the visible as such. Ultimately, I suppose, this is the purpose to which many international exhibitions aspire, but it is hardly ever engaged with such determination and such willingness to grapple with the power of the eye, the life of pictures, and the role of art in a world flooded by imagery. Organized by New York–based curator Massimiliano Gioni and borrowing its title from an almost endless epic by Korean author Ko Un—who, during a two-year imprisonment for his

  • Roman Ondák, Loop, 2009, mixed media, installation view. Czech and Slovak pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale.

    Roman Ondák

    Slovakian neo-Conceptualist Roman Ondák creates powerful works of art through seemingly simple shifts.

    Slovakian neo-Conceptualist Roman Ondák creates powerful works of art through seemingly simple shifts. During the 2009 Venice Biennale, he famously turned his country’s pavilion inside out, allowing the surrounding garden to occupy the building’s interior. In another recent piece, he transformed viewers into subject matter, directing gallery attendants to mark visitors’ names and heights on the museum wall in an ever-expanding drawing. For this show, his first major solo in the UK, Ondák will present two new installations that refer specifically to recent world events,

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    1 “Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929” (Victoria and Albert Museum, London; curated by Jane Pritchard and Geoffrey Marsh) They don’t make ’em like Diaghilev anymore, and they never did before him, either. About this most spectacular impresario of all time, the genius dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (whom the master, also his lover, would hit with his cane) wrote: “Diaghilev has two false front teeth. I noticed this because when he is nervous he touches them with his tongue. . . . Diaghilev reminds me of a wicked old woman when he moves his two front teeth.” Not only charming

  • Daniel Birnbaum and Hans Ulrich Obrist

    EVERY SEPTEMBER, LIKE CLOCKWORK, it’s the same thing: quick handshakes in the haughty opera director’s pompous office, and then it’s off with the artist to meet the press. Quite a list, after all these years: Tacita Dean, Richard Hamilton, Jeff Koons, Maria Lassnig, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Rosemarie Trockel, Franz West, to name just a few out of a litany of luminaries who have collaborated with our host. So there we sit, onstage again. Brief statements from us, the curators, and perhaps a few words from the artist. Then the massive curtain drops, revealing a new work of art: a cut-off ear on a


    In just a few short years, Keren Cytter has produced a singular oeuvre comprising dozens of films, works of fiction, and, more recently, theatrical pieces created with her new company, D.I.E. Now (Dance International Europe Now). Curator, critic, and Artforum contributing editor Daniel Birnbaum takes stock of this prodigious figure—“one of the emblematic artists of our moment,” he says—who is currently exhibiting at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, through April 4; who will stage a D.I.E. Now production this month at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands (March 8–21); and who will be the subject of an in-depth survey opening this spring at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (May 8–August 15).

    “STELLA!” “MY NAME IS LUCY, MAN.” Immediately, things get complicated: Is her name Lucy or is it Stella, as the male protagonist—the bleeding man in the bathtub—insists? Keren Cytter’s twelve-minute film Four Seasons, 2009, is a psychologically dense and convoluted story of a man and a woman living next door to each other (or perhaps in the same apartment—it’s not entirely clear); it’s rendered all the more confounding by a kind of metanarrative about divine architectures reminiscent of J. G. Ballard’s icy science-fiction parables. “The structure seemed like a ghost town from a distance,” intones

  • Daniel Birnbaum


    1 “John Baldessari: Pure Beauty” (Tate Modern, London) No doubt the show of the year: visually overwhelming, wry, and, as always in Baldessari’s case, mildly subversive. The artist says, “I think there’s value in being under the radar, because you can develop better. And now I don’t care about the spotlight because I am who I am, so it doesn’t really matter.” He may not care, but the fact that after all these years he’s out there reaching a huge audience does matter.

    2 Inhotim, Brumadinho, Brazil Nine ambitious new permanent projects by, among others, Chris Burden, Yayoi Kusama,

  • David Barison and Daniel Ross, The Ister, 2004, stills from a color video, 189 minutes. Right: Bernard Stiegler.
    film November 17, 2009

    A River Runs Through It

    RIVERS HAVE no poetic power anymore, German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg tells us in David Barison and Daniel Ross’s 2004 documentary The Ister (now available on DVD). They have lost their mythic resonance and become part of the “machine” of “daily life.” These days, Syberberg asserts, nobody would create a major work of art about a river, the way Richard Wagner or Friedrich Hölderlin did. Syberberg’s musings appear at the very conclusion of Barison and Ross’s three-hour philosophical voyage. The film traces the Danube’s full course, from the Black Sea all the way to its source in southern

  • Arthur C. Danto’s Andy Warhol

    ARTHUR C. DANTO, who not only seeks but finds, is a luckier man than his namesake, the legendary king who never discovers the Holy Grail, for which he so desperately searches. Indeed, while Danto’s admirers will have previously come across many of the arguments in this slim and elegant volume, things get exciting and, I have to say, a bit surprising in its final chapter, where Warhol’s Brillo Boxes are compared to the Grail. Like the Santo Cáliz, a regular-looking bowl in Valencia, Spain, believed by some to have touched Christ’s lips (Danto considers it plausible), the Brillo Boxes are disguised

  • Carsten Höller’s Double Club

    I WENT TO A BAR, restaurant, and dance club where the Congo meets the West. And then, a few weeks later, I went to a bar, restaurant, and dance club where the West meets the Congo. Both were located at 7 Torrens Street, a tiny alley in East London, so one could say they were the same place. But Carsten Höller’s Double Club, a Fondazione Prada production that opened last November and will close later this year, emphasizes ambivalence and puzzling duplications to such an extent that this sameness becomes less and less evident over time. Already, at the entrance to the large bar area, you have to

  • Daniel Birnbaum


    1 Alexander Kluge, Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike (News from the Antiquity of Ideology) (Suhrkamp/Insel) Kluge, now seventy-six years old, is still the German artist who fascinates me most. For this work, he implemented Sergei Eisenstein’s 1920s plan to make a film of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Kluge’s 580-minute filmic collage on three DVDs is a visual polyphony (with commentaries by writers including Boris Groys and Dietmar Dath) that quickly becomes a labyrinth as absorbing as any great cultural work of the past century. News that stays news.

    2 Chu Yun In the context of