Daniel Birnbaum

  • Dawn ’til Dusk

    “THE EYE IS THE FIRST CIRCLE; THE HORIZON WHICH IT FORMS is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.” So Emerson writes in his 1841 essay “Circles.” A visual corollary for this theory might be found today in the work of Olafur Eliasson, an enthusiastic examiner of horizons, orbs, and spheres of vision. Case in point: Your black horizon, 2005, the artist’s latest project, housed in a temporary pavilion designed by British architect David Adjaye on the island of San Lazzaro as part of “Always a Little

  • Harald Szeemann

    HARALD SZEEMANN, who died in February at the age of seventy-one, was the most influential curator of his generation—and, arguably, the most influential of all time, since he practically defined the curator’s role as we understand it today. For decades, he worked out of a studio he called “The Factory” in the small Swiss village of Tegna, conceiving exhibitions that were international in scope and consistently dodging the categories of traditional museum practice, often daring to place historical and contemporary artworks beside anthropological artifacts, sacred objects, technical devices, and

  • The Ister

    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 video). 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


    IT’S ALREADY EVENING when I arrive by car at the Land, an artists’ community in northern Thailand initiated by Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Rirkrit Tiravanija in 1998. Dusk is falling, and the fire that keeps the water buffalo warm at night will soon be lit. The buffalo themselves are already on their way to a familiar spot next to a small pond; slowly and majestically they approach across the vast rice fields. Behind them, in the distance, are the mountains that surround these agricultural flatlands. This is the village of Sanpatong, some twenty minutes outside the northern provincial capital,

  • Franz West

    Depending on which aspect of his art you emphasize, Franz West is either a contemporary Giacometti or the godfather of relational aesthetics. This show of thirty works consists of three categories: sculpture, furniture, and the artist’s so-called “adaptives,” or Paßstücke, which are the main focus of the exhibition. These variously shaped objects are meant to be handled and worn by gallery visitors, thus turning the viewer into an active performer. In explaining these odd-looking items made of papier-mâché, plaster, or polyester, West claims that they give form to

  • Simon Starling, Untitled (work in progress), 2005, mixed media, 18' x 11' 6“ x 9' 3”.

    Simon Starling

    Simon Starling, master of productive detours and delays, is up for a mid-career retrospective and wants to slightly alter the museum itself. The exhibition not only displays nine important works made since 1993 but remains true to the artist’s way of working by featuring two large, site-specific installations that involve architectural interventions (in one instance, Starling even cuts into the walls of the newly renovated building). The show, accompanied by a catalogue that includes a long interview with the artist, also contains an appropriated photographic work by

  • Jiří Georg Dokoupil

    Why does the present wave of figuration in oil from Germany seem like déjà vu or perhaps even a bad joke? Because it was just two decades ago that Jiří Georg Dokoupil and the other members of Mülheimer Freiheit were said to have reinvented the medium in exactly the same way, prompting exactly the same enthusiasm from naive writers and, more important, the market. The extent of Dokoupil’s artistic weight should be readily apparent in this exhibition of some two hundred works from the past twenty-four years (many of which will make their premiere in Hamburg). The

  • Left: Philippe Vergne and Sylvia Chivaratanond. Middle: View of the Walker Art Center. Right: Richard Flood (left), Matthew Barney (middle), and Jacques Herzog (right). (Photos courtesy Walker Art Center.)
    diary April 19, 2005

    American Friends


    After stopping in New York, Boston, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago, we arrive in Minneapolis. I'm traveling with curators Gunnar Kvaran and Hans-Ulrich Obrist to map “The Uncertain States of America,” a project that will result in a

    show of emerging American artists in Oslo in the fall. We’ve collected dossiers from almost a thousand prospective contributors and have glimpsed an artistic landscape that we really hadn’t known anything about. Armed with lists of recommendations from friends across the nation, we continue our exploration in the galleries, studios, cafés


    WILLIAM FORSYTHE’S Ballett Frankfurt may have disappeared last year, a victim of government budget cuts, but in its place the choreographer has created an even more flexible and transdisciplinary creative unit: the Forsythe Company, an eighteen-artist ensemble (based in Dresden and Frankfurt) whose productions will leave traditional notions of ballet behind, with site-specific performances, interventions in public spaces, and audience participation. For its first creation, Three Atmospheric Studies, opening at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt on April 21, the group teams up with New York–based

  • Left: The European Kunsthalle site, Cologne. Right: Nicolas Schafhausen.
    diary March 24, 2005



    Last week I took the morning train to Cologne. On the new high-speed line, the trip from Frankfurt only takes an hour (you feel like you’re playing some kind of virtual-reality game), and I didn’t even manage to finish reading the newspaper before I had to get off and attend to the strange question: What can you do with a hole in the ground and half a million dollars? That’s what Nicolaus Schafhausen, the newly appointed director of Cologne’s as-yet-unbuilt European Kunsthalle, has to figure out. (I was a member of the jury that picked him, so you can blame me if it turns out to be a failure.)

  • Left: Young artists visit the Kabakov studio, ca. 1980-81. Right: Ilya and Emilia Kabakov in Grenoble, 1994. (Photos: Moscow House of Photography)
    diary February 06, 2005

    String Theory


    “The piece is from '85,” says American critic and Ilya Kabakov expert Amei Wallach. “No, no, it's from '86,” retorts Joseph Backstein, Kabakov's old friend. Both of them should know, but here in the artist's former studio—where the classic work 16 Strings has been reconstructed—all straightforward facts seem to disappear into a thick cloud of Slavic mythology. It's January 30, the day after the opening of Moscow's first contemporary art biennale, and the curators, artists, and critics in town for the show have come here to pay homage. Kabakov built the studio himself in 1968 and lived

  • Christoph Schlingensief

    “TO LET ONESELF BE EATEN is one method. The other is to rot away and thereby give birth to new worms. For the moment I tend toward the first method,” an exalted Christoph Schlingensief, German theater’s most eminent provocateur, told me last July, just a few weeks before the premiere of his production of Parsifal. I was inclined to agree. From a metaphysical point of view he had the biggest job in the business: The opera festival that opens every summer in the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth was originally financed in 1876 by oddball King Ludwig II and given the philosophical blessing of none