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.

to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.

Not registered for Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW for only $50 a year—65% off the newsstand price—and get the print magazine plus full online access to this issue and our archive.*

Order the PRINT EDITION of the December 2003 issue for $17 or the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.