Hanne Darboven

Sprüth Magers | Los Angeles
5900 Wilshire Boulevard
September 9, 2016–October 29, 2016

View of “Hanne Darboven,” 2016.

Hanne Darboven’s systematic output is intimidating, partly due to its inscrutability but mostly because of its scope and ambition. This is serious work, as in labor, and it is displayed here to a rare enough degree that initial feelings of awe turn into a strange sense of gratitude.

Much of what’s here is writing. Erdkunde I, II, III (Geography I, II, III), 1986, covers the walls of the massive first-floor gallery with more than seven hundred framed panels. Some contain photographs of her studio or previous installations, encyclopedia pages or detailed drawings, but most are repetitive numbered sheets of lines and curves in firm black ink—writing as daily exercise. Some are recognizable as names and lists, but the content is mostly unidentifiable. On the floor, ten pictorial tableaus point to different stages in history, tying the voluminous chronology together in one big sweep of human experience.

Upstairs, across a smaller space, Leben, leblen (Life, Living), 1997–98, presents more than fourteen hundred panels of typed and handwritten numerical sequences and calculations, indexing a period of one hundred years. Zooming in to find patterns is futile: One must consider the whole installation, which also includes two large dollhouses. These two feel like a reconciliation of personal memory and culture with the passing of time, as do the objects in Fin de Siècle – Buch der Bilder (Fin de Siècle – Book of Pictures), 1992–93, in which meticulously labeled photographs of instruments from Darboven’s studio, such as clocks and microscopes, also symbolize markers of technological progress.

Honora Shea