"Art is a mixture between concept and discipline": this was one of Hanne Darboven’s maxims. The artist has now died at the age of 67 in her native city of Hamburg. In 1966, Darboven moved to New York for two years during her studies at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg. She created her first construction drawings in an atmosphere dominated by Conceptual and Minimal art. Shortly thereafter, she made calendar dates the basis of her work, a theme that would go on to dominate her art for the rest of her life. Darboven sought to capture time with her columns of numbers and by writing out the names of numbers in a form of notation reduced to U-shaped undulating lines. Later, she began integrating texts, photographs, and magazine covers into her works in order to reflect upon historical, social, and political issues. At home in her house in Hamburg, she produced countless works on paper with incredible diligence on a daily basis from 4 until 11 in the morning. "The elegance of this work and thinking is something one never forgets," as her artist friend Sol LeWitt remarked while recalling his first encounter with Hanne Darboven. And Lawrence Weiner characterized her inimitable work with the laconic comment: "It is what it is."
Darboven worked against loss and forgetting by reconstructing time through the laborious activity of writing and the inclusion in her work of important persons and a selection of events either of an everyday or historically significant nature. Over the course of years, her obsessive involvement with numerals and dates gave rise to a highly individual oeuvre: thousands of sheets of paper with notations of time scrawled upon them, her method of trapping the world’s chaos within a system of order. The artist’s work has been part of the Deutsche Bank Collection since the early 1980s. In 2006, the Deutsche Guggenheim presented the last museum exhibition to take place in her lifetime, Hommage à Picasso. This fervent installation immersed the exhibition hall from floor to ceiling in a sea of numbers. The work was comprised of nearly 10,000 sheets of paper in 270 custom-made frames on which Darboven scribbled notations calendaring the last decade of the 20th century. A group of life-sized wicker donkeys, a sumptuous bronze goat, hand-painted ornamental frames: the handcrafted objects that Darboven placed alongside her columns of numbers and written images recalled Picasso’s formal language and his love of folklore and the "primitive." At the same time, they imbued the room with a blend between an almost touching naivety and cultish mysticism. In her last museum show, Darboven found a spiritual and simultaneously cheerful form that gave the exhibition hall the aura of a modern chapel or an Egyptian mausoleum. The exhibition was accompanied musically by her newly produced work Opus 60, a symphony for 120 orchestra musicians that had its premiere in the atrium of the building at Unter den Linden.
Darboven lent her installation the appearance of a place of purification—with great dignity, grace, and concentration. At the same time, this late work was also peppered with a wonderful touch of dry humor. The artist signed some of the sheets of paper for her own dearly loved goat: H.D. + Mickey 1995. "Anyone who has had the honor of getting to know Hanne Darboven better," says Friedhelm Hütte, Global Head of Deutsche Bank Art, "will not only remember her as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, but also as an absolutely straightforward, warmhearted, and unmistakable personality. More than anything else, I was always impressed by the relentless consistency in everything that she did."