Hanne Darboven, the daughter of a wealthy shopkeeper, grew up surrounded by art. She started playing the piano as a child – many of her drawings visually echo musical scores – but she gave up music in 1962 when she began her studies at the Hamburg Hochschule für bildende Künste. She spent the years 1966 to 1968 in New York, where she met Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre, who were keen supporters of her art. This was when she created her first works on squared paper, much in vogue among artists at that time. On her return to Hamburg, she determined what she called ‘K-Wert‘ (K value) for ‘Konstruktion‘, the sum of the numbers in a given date, which became the key to her own system of notation. She developed numerical sequences that were part-writing, part-drawing, based on K-Wert numbers for dates in the Gregorian calendar. She considered herself more a writer than an artist.
Darboven’s works offer a meditation on the passage of time and thus the ebb and flow of life itself, like those of On Kawara. They take the form of an index progressing across a wall, as in this work, K – Zeichnung – 74 – 1/IV/7/4 – 16 à – 30/IV/7/4 – 45, or across an entire room. The drawing, based on complex logic, consists of thirty sheets produced over the course of thirty days in April 1974. Darboven records the passage of time and life flowing past. Encoding dates and their written expression was her way of acting and being in the world. She based her work on a system invented to organise time, the calendar, highlighting its relative artificiality. Her art, which over time developed towards installations including photography and sculpture, can be read as part of the emergence of conceptual art, exploring issues of seriality and the mechanical progression of shapes, at the limits of figuration.
Okwui Enwezor and Rein Wolfs (eds.), Hanne Darboven: Enlightenment–Time Histories, a Retrospective, exh. cat. Bonn, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, Munich, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Munich, Prestel, 2015.
Dietmar Elger, Hanne Darboven: Evolution Leibniz 1986, exh. cat. Hanover, Sprengel Museum, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 1996.
Franz Meyer, Hanne Darboven: ein Monat, ein Jahr, ein Jahrhundert, Arbeiten von 1968 bis 1974, exh. cat. Basel, Kunstmuseum, 1974.