new-york

Lothar Baumgarten

Whitney Museum of American Art

“Ambivalent.” The word flashes briefly on-screen toward the end of Lothar Baumgarten’s 1973–77 film The Origin of the Night: Amazon Cosmos, a lush, ninety-eight-minute meditation on the rain forest inspired by a Tupi myth about the division of night and day. Although active since the early ’70s, the German-born Baumgarten is best known in the United States for his 1993 Guggenheim exhibition in which a stately procession of names of indigenous North American peoples (Inuit, Iroquois, Huron, Crow . . . ) was printed directly on the inner curves of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous rotunda. As critic Craig Owens noted, a penchant for proper nouns forms a unifying thread in Baumgarten’s materially disparate oeuvre, which encompasses installation, slide projection, photography, sculpture, and text. Indeed, The Origin of the Night opens with a sequence of fifty-two names of tropical animals and plants.

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