Review: Before BuzzFeed, there was Hanne Darboven: an artist’s relentless lists, cataloging life


One of the many confounding aspects of Hanne Darboven’s work is how such a cerebral enterprise can also be so physically, even viscerally, affecting.

At Sprüth Magers, three projects by the German artist (1941-2009) fill every wall, top to bottom, on both floors of the gallery. In each piece, hundreds or even thousands of individually framed pages of notations and photographs hang in continuous, immersive grids.

In “Erdkunde I, II, III” (“Geography I, II, III,” 1986), Darboven imposes a kind of graphic order on the impossibly vast archive of human experience. On sheet after sheet, she catalogs places, names, types of landmarks: Dusseldorf, Erfurt … Hitler, Honecker … marketplace, bridge. Wooden stands holding instructional timelines and illustrations from the 1960s are scattered on the floor throughout, their dated imagery adding to the installation’s tone of earnest and diligent futility.

The Hanne Darboven exhibition at Sprth Magers in Los Angeles runs through Oct. 29. (Joshua White / Sprth Magers)

In the 2,782 sheets of ‘Leben, leben” (“Life, living,” 1997-98), Darboven marks the passage of time, like the late artist On Kawara, through the meticulous recording of individual dates. And in the 520 panels of “Fin de Siècle-Buch der Bilder” (“Fin de Siècle-Book of Pictures”) (1992-93), she attempts another, slightly more personal type of archive, classifying objects from her studio.

For all of its minimalist coolness and mathematical rigor, Darboven’s work can make the heart ache and the body sigh. The grid — no matter how expansive — is no match for the restless, endless chaos of experience and history. Darboven’s permutations and calculations, her lists and systems, are fascinating efforts to get inside of time, inside of knowledge, braving the relentless intimacy and daunting immensity of it all.


Hanne Darboven

Where: Sprüth Magers, 5900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Through Oct. 29, closed Sundays and Mondays

Information: (323) 634-0600,


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