Dara Birnbaum

There are just 2 days left to see Dara Birnbaum’s solo exhibition “Arabesque” at Marian Goodman Gallery. I wish I could say ‘Put on your sprinters and charge on over!’, but frankly you’re better off staying home and revisiting Technology and Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978).

Arabesque” (2010), the title piece of the exhibition is disappointingly dispassionate. The multi-channel projection purports to tell a love story via two piano compositions: one written by husband for wife and the other by wife for husband. Three of the four screens recycle YouTube clips of clearly unprofessional female pianists performing Robert Schumann’s Arabesque Opus 18. The fourth screen samples clips of the only performance on YouTube of Clara Schumann’s Romanze 1, Opus 11 spliced with texts from her diary and excerpts from the 1947 film “Song of Love”. The performances by both casually garbed pianists in their living rooms and overly primped teenagers and toddlers in recital halls, meld into one mediocre melody, not improved by the compressed audio native to YouTube. The text and film clips offer nothing but additional confusion. The grand scale of the installation, (8 speakers/4 monitors in a giant gallery space) begs the work to have the authority of image and sound that Christian Marclay explodes in Video Quartet, but it fails in both cases and has left critics to rely on the press release to explain the work rather than simply discredit it, as they should.


Last chance—closing on the 27th!:

The View from a Volcano:
The Kitchen’s Soho Years, 1971-85

Curated by Debra Singer, Matthew Lyons, and Lumi Tan

On the occasion of its 40th anniversary, The Kitchen presents an exhibition revealing the depth of its early history as a home for both experimental performance-based work and exciting new developments in the visual arts. The show offers a unique perspective on the vibrant, interconnected downtown New York arts scene of the 1970s and early 1980s and features single-channel videos and other artworks presented alongside audio, video, and print documentation related to the institution’s programming during its fifteen years in Soho (1971-85). Featuring video documentation of and artworks by Vito Acconci, Ambitious Lovers, Laurie Anderson, Karole Armitage, Robert Ashley, Charles Atlas, Beastie Boys, Gretchen Bender, Dara Birnbaum, Eric Bogosian, Trisha Brown, Bush Tetras, John Cage, Rhys Chatham, Constance de Jong, Jean Dupuy, Eiko & Koma, Molissa Fenley, Kit Fitzgerald, Simone Forti, Jon Gibson, Pat Hearn, Julia Heyward, Gary Hill, Joan Jonas, Bill T. Jones, Jill Kroesen, Joan Logue, Jackson Mac Low, Christian Marclay, Larry Miller, Meredith Monk, Matt Mullican, Dennis Oppenheim, Tony Oursler, Nam June Paik, Steve Paxton, Wendy Perron, Howardena Pindell, Boris Policeband, Steve Reich, Rock Steady Crew, Arthur Russell, Jon Sanborn, Carolee Schneeman, Stuart Sherman, Mike Smith, Elizabeth Streb, Talking Heads, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Bill Viola, Lawrence Weiner, Arnie Zane, and documentation of many more who were redefining what art, music, dance, and performance could be.

And check out the press:

Cooking in the Kitchen, 1971-1985
–NY Times Style Magazine Blog Deb Singer and Eric Bogosian discuss the 40th anniversary of The Kitchen, and the exhibition “View from a Volcano: The Kitchen’s Soho Years, 1971-85.”
–The Leonard Lopate Show The View from a Volcano: The Kitchen’s Soho Years, 1971-85
–The New Yorker


Dara Birnbaum

24 West 57th Street
June 28–August 26

“It is true that my health would be better if I exerted myself less, but after all does not every man, who is worthy of the name, give his life for his calling?” These words, drawn from the diary of Clara Schumann—the wife of Robert, the composer—are superimposed over her journal in Dara Birnbaum’s new multichannel video installation Arabesque, 2011. That a woman is behind “every man” is telling, given that Clara often supported the whole Schumann family, including her sometimes mentally ill spouse and their eight children, with her musical practice. Although she was a gifted composer and pianist, dedicating a critically acclaimed piece to her husband, it is Robert Schumann’s Arabesque, op. 18 (1839), written for Clara, whose place in the canon of Romanticism is indisputed.

Testifying to the propensity for incommensurate historical amnesia and its continued repercussions, Birnbaum’s piece also features numerous YouTube videos of female pianists practicing and playing the Arabesque. These are juxtaposed with clips from the 1947 film Song of Love in which Katharine Hepburn, as the composer’s wife, weeps and throws herself at her husband, among other melodramatic antics. Here, the performances of the pianists and the actress alike seem to function as by-products of patriarchal conditioning.

A broad, newly restored selection of the artist’s earliest videos are also included in the exhibition. In tandem with concurrent experiments by Vito Acconci and Dan Graham, Birnbaum’s Control Piece, Mirroring, and Bar(red), all 1975, show the artist operating a Portapak camera while simultaneously acting before it or alongside it. When performed by a woman, the narcissistic exercise of looking and being looked at is destined to be different from every man’s performance, regardless of content or technical proficiency. Birnbaum’s ongoing feminist exploration of video—especially in the context of the medium’s massive online expansion—elucidates that it is not enough for women to simply operate the instrument; the very structures of recognition and representation demand recomposition.   —Sarah Lookofsky (artforum.com)