Hanne Darboven 1941 - 2009

(C) Hanne Darboven courtesy Edition Schellmann

The grand dame of minimal and concept art died 9th March 2009 in the age of 67 from cancer in her hometown Hamburg-Hartberg, Germany. 




She was one of my favourite artists: I liked the crazy obsession of persuing her systems and the discipline of her work. For me it is not possible to follow entirely the logic of her mathematical or muscial calculations. Maybe this is possible for scientific Darboven specialists – most likely only for herself.




To enjoy her art I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to understand her mathematic systems. It is like in ordinary life: Who do we understand really? And, aren’t we all following with great effort our own mental models, that are hardly to be understood by others?




Darboven explaines her basic theory:




One plus one is two one.

Two is one two.




This is my basic thesis for all mathematical laws that run through me mathematically. I am writing mathematical literature and mathematical music.”




Many critics say that Darboven is illustrating and structuring the flow of time and its memory. I do agree, but there is more.




Order and discipline must have been a dominant factor in her life: Not just the use of narrow lined paper also her strict daily program shows that:



  4.00 - 11.00 Doing art
11.00 - 12.00 P.R. - if necessary
12.00 - 13.00 Lunch
13.00 - 16.00 Managing things
16.00 - Private spare time



(C) Hanne Darboven courtesy Konrad Fischer Gallery

She was born into an open minded bourgois coffe trader family from Hamburg. In 1966 she moves for 2 years to New York and gets to know protagonists of the minimal and concept art movement, like Sol LeWitt, Carl André, Lucy Lippard and Kasper König.




There she starts to develop her conceptual art around numbers and their variations. She said then:


“I only use numbers, because it is a way of writing without describing.”



  • 1968: She makes the “K-value”, the sum of the numbers of dates, a core element of her work.
  • 1975: Texts are integrated in her work.
  • 1978: Fotos are integrated in her work.
  • 1979: Her numeric systems are translated into (minimal) music.


Some critics say that she chose the very abstract mathematical approach for her art in order not to be absorbed by politics. This yet does not mean, that she was not a deeply political artist.




She follows a voluminous collection of photos, magazines, postcards and memorabila of her private and public time. She uses these intensively also to comment on the sources and reactions to Nazi Germany. Or to describe the connection of art and politics.



Besides the time-bound political work I like very much the personal work, when she integrates personal photos and remarks from her childhood into her system of numbers. That gives her so rational work a very emotional touch.




One of the reasons for her early artistic and commercial success is that Leo Castelli integrated her in his gallery program. The legendary New York art dealer gave her 9 shows between 1973 and 1995.




1982 she represented Germany at the Venice Biennial. And in 1972 and 2002 she was integrated in the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany.


by UGL.


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