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Dara Birnbaum: Reaction
June 25 – November 27, 2022
→ Hessel Museum of Art
Curated by
Exhibition Category
Major Exhibitions

Opening Reception: Saturday, June 25, 2022, 2pm - 5pm
For a seat on the free roundtrip chartered bus from New York City for the opening please call T +1 845 758 7573 or email Reservations are required for the bus.

To reserve your free timed entrance to the exhibition please visit our reservation page here.

Force can be seen as elemental destruction. It can be seen as that which overpowers, takes over. It can be that which produces a change in a body’s state of rest or motion. In itself, force can be perceived as body (e.g. the armed forces; the police). Yet, counter to force, reaction also empowers, giving back to the body its elemental disposition: its capacity for expression.
—Dara Birnbaum, “Elemental Forces, Elemental Dispositions: fire/water,” October, no. 90 (1999)

Dara Birnbaum: Reaction, the first retrospective of Birnbaum’s work in the United States, charts a wide and in-depth view of the artist’s extraordinary and influential practice, marking the indelible contribution Birnbaum has made not only to American art but to the international movements of Conceptual, performance, and appropriation art. Reaction, the exhibition title, distills Birnbaum’s consistent position toward mass media: across media and method, Birnbaum has employed art as a “counter to force,” to “empower” myriad capacities for expression that oppose the passive acceptance of authority. Including works from 1975 to 2011, Reaction focuses on key single-channel videos and major installations, many not seen in the United States for years, including PM Magazine (1982), Damnation of Faust (1984), Will-O’-the-Wisp (1985), and Hostage (1994), among others. An accompanying presentation of archival material will illustrate her rigorous and interdisciplinary method, while illuminating the multifaceted contexts of her work in art, music, and politics. Encompassing drawings, sketches, notes, correspondences, clippings, photographs, and posters, this selection also touches on Birnbaum’s research and writings, plans for ambitious projects, and evidence of her ardent and evolving activism that traces across her life.

Organized by Lauren Cornell, chief curator of the Hessel Museum and director of the graduate program at the Center for Curatorial Studies, the retrospective illuminates a groundbreaking artistic practice based in deep study and deconstruction of technological context, message, and medium. This retrospective has been planned to accompany a significant thematic survey of Birnbaum’s works set to open at the Miller ICA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in Fall 2022 and organized by Miller ICA Director Elizabeth Chodos. Together, the two complementary exhibitions provide a moment to consider Birnbaum’s pertinence to the present moment in art, culture, and society.

Many techniques that Birnbaum first tested—reediting found footage, inserting remixed footage back into public networks, asserting an imprint or “reaction” on a media clip to viral effect—prefigure the operations of popular media culture today. Yet what is truly Birnbaum’s legacy, beyond these direct formal antecedents, is her systems analysis, her refusal to participate passively, and her insistence on engaging on her own terms. As popular media has evolved, from the monolithic nature of TV broadcast networks to the internet’s decentralization of information, Birnbaum’s work has remained consistently prescient and vital, incorporating new technologies and providing a touchstone for generations of younger artists.

The accompanying book aims to depict this ongoing influence through gathering a reader to situate the work from the vantage of the present. Catalogue contributors include: critic Alex Kitnick, Dia Art Foundation curator Jordan Carter, media scholar and critic Erika Balsom, Museum Brandhorst curator and writer Giampaolo Bianconi, and The Kitchen’s Executive Director & Chief Curator Legacy Russell in conversation with Miller ICA Director Elizabeth Chodos. Overseen by Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroeder of New York–based publisher Dancing Foxes and focused on fresh scholarship around Birnbaum’s work, this new volume is situated in a rich line of research and scholarship, all of which has benefited greatly from the artist’s contribution and vision.

Interpretive materials for Dara Birnbaum: Reaction written by Ania Szremski. Over the three years leading to the exhibition, curatorial research and support was provided by Ursula Pokorny, Casey Robertson, and Candice Strongwater.

Dara Birnbaum: Reaction is generously supported by Lonti Ebers.

Major additional support is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Dara Birnbaum: Reaction is also made possible through the generous support of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation.

Exhibitions at CCS Bard are made possible with support from the Marieluise Hessel Foundation, the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the Board of Governors of the Center for Curatorial Studies, the CCS Bard Arts Council, and the Center’s Patrons, Supporters, and Friends.

With support from:
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