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"One and One is Two – Everyone Understands That"
The Deutsche Guggenheim presents Hanne Darboven’s Hommage à Picasso

In "Hommage à Picasso," Hanne Darboven’s commissioned work for the Deutsche Guggenheim, the viewer is immersed in a sea of 9,720 sheets of paper covered in writing in which Darboven has recorded the last decade of the 20th century. Her notations are juxtaposed with the copy of a famous painting: Picasso’s "Woman with Turkish Headdress," painted in 1955. The installation is complemented by a series of sculptures — from a bronze bust of Picasso to a donkey woven together from birch branches. Angela Rosenberg on the exhibition and on Darboven’s unadorned work.

Hanne Darboven with her goats
©Courtesy Galerie Crone Andreas Osarek, Berlin

Her name was Esmerelda and it was a Christmas present from his wife Jacqueline Roque . We’re talking about Pablo Picasso’s goat, whom he immortalized both as a bronze sculpture and on several canvases. Picasso himself is considered to be an icon of the artistic drive – unbridled originality, constant innovation, and sensuous expression. The quickly painting artist with the increasingly expressive brushstroke created a gigantic oeuvre. Particularly towards the end of his career, when he produced numerous paintings in rapid succession, he not only recorded the date the work was made on its reverse, but also the time of day.

Hommage à Picasso (detail) 1995-2006
Photo:Mathias Schormann
Copyright:© Hanne Darboven

Mickey is the name of Hanne Darboven’s goat. The eccentric Hamburg artist is often called the grande dame of conceptual art, which doesn’t really fit the petite lady with the shortly cropped grey hair who prefers to dress in custom-tailored men’s suits. "I don’t want any expressivity," Darboven coolly states. The artist finds the representation of emotionality intoxicating and artificial; instead, as a young artist in 1966, she began developing constructions and writing these out using letters and numerals. The crucial step occurred with the recognition that the essence of time lies hidden in the date’s numerical construction. Since then, writing time down as a formulation of these numerical constructions fills the artist’s strictly ordered, almost monkish daily schedule, an unusual writing task indeed. "I write, but I don’t describe anything."

Hommage à Picasso (detail) 1995-2006
Photo:Mathias Schormann
Copyright:© Hanne Darboven

The numbers Darboven writes do not count anything; they themselves are the material of time that passes in writing. The artist has filled thousands of sheets with numbers, written them out in her precise handwriting, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. Rows of numerals, lines of number words written out in her characteristic handwriting and reduced to page size arrest time in the form of books, notebooks, tableaus, and series of individual pages. Augmented by found objects, texts, photographs, and magazine covers integrated into the work in the form of historical, social, and political reflections, Darboven’s numerical constructions repeatedly give rise to new and surprising variations despite their apparent monotony. Arranged into large-scale installations, the centuries lie spread out before our eyes not only as lost time, but as epochs that are commented upon in a discreet way.

Due to her propensity for numbers, one might surmise that the artist would be far more interested in the dates on the reverse sides of Picasso’s paintings. But as a reminiscence on the "most important artist of the 20th century," the artist exhibits her pages in hand-painted frames fashioned by Polish craftsmen and inspired by Picasso’s painting Woman with Turkish Headdress. In doing so, Hanne Darboven challenges Picasso as an icon of innovation on what is supposedly his own private territory. In the process, she doesn’t so much call the artist’s work into question, but rather the legend of the artist as the producer of originality. More than almost any other artist, Picasso left behind an army of epigons who have diluted his handwriting, style, and motifs to the point of complete and utter meaninglessness, which has also exerted an influence on the reception of his work. When Darboven observes this phenomenon, it is not without a touch of pleasure; she illustrates it vividly using additional objects, such as the pretty brushwood donkey or a sumptuous bronze goat clearly based on Picasso’s bronze of Esmerelda.

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