New York

Hanne Darvoben

Leo Castelli

Theodor W. Adorno has written that “dissonance . . . lets in the beguiling moment of sensuousness by transfiguring it into its antithesis, that is, pain. This is an aesthetic phenomenon of primal ambivalence. Dissonance [has become a] constant in modernism. This is so the immanent dynamic of autonomous works of art and the growing power of external reality over the subject converge in dissonance. . . . The hyper-modern response is to be wary of dissonance because of its proximity to consonance. . . . Dissonance thus congeals into an indifferent material feeling, with out an essence.”

Hanne Darboven’s most recent exhibition has shown her to be an exemplary hyper-Modernist by Adorno’s definition. In Darboven’s Ansichten 85, 1984–85, her familiar calendar scrip—in both senses of the term, as brief abstract text and as an abstract medium of exchange—and her “world-historical” photography form a conventional structure of dissonance. Ambivalence is stereotyped; even the photographs, of sites in Hamburg and New York, are at odds The “unity” imposed upon the work by its pseudo narrative seriality, the nonclimactic drama of inevitability, is completely illusory. Nonetheless, this fleeting illusion of unity shows us what Darboven really wants to articulate: fate, as the static system of opposites that can never be reconciled. Her works especially seem to show art’s destiny to become an “indifferent material,” dumbly immediate. This apparent neutrality is the mechanism of a programmatic attempt to eliminate the subject from art. Darboven implies that for art Leo Castelli to be authentic today it must systematically liquidate subjectivity; yet the point she makes is not Simply “the growing power of external reality over the subject” but art’s collusion with this power. In treating subjectivity simply as external reality’s nondialectical reflex—its passive victim, as it were—art capitulates to a naively conceived, dubiously perfect objectivity: it conforms.

Darboven stereotypes dissonance in the name of a quasi-truthful depiction of external reality. But the real point of her hyper-Modernist reification of dissonance is that it indicates a repression of sensual pleasure. Technically, Darboven’s works are fixed esthetically through standardized photographic juxtaposition and surface smoothness. Yet photography, as the representative of reification (objectification), has already won the game that Darboven’s artwork is: photography’s anonymity has standardized her touch, denying its sensuality, its ambivalence as painful pleasure, pleasurable plain.

Like many neo-Minimalist, Darboven sets up a framework that twists reality in a preconceived direction, forcing it to march toward pseudobjecivity. Darboven’s is an an of fatalistic resignation, as its systematism indicates. That fatalism signifies the collapse of the subject’s dialectical resistance to external reality. For all its “advanced” look, Darboven’s an is a reactionary game of solitaire, dealing quotations as though they were the only hand worth holding. Read properly, it shows the claustrophobic bleakness of Post-Modem art—the sense of art having reached its limits.

Donald Kuspit