Jimmie Durham “A matter of Life and Death and Singing” at MuHKA, Antwerp

My work might be considered ‘interventionist’ because it works against the two foundations of the European tradition: Belief and Architecture. My work is against the connection of art to architecture, to the ‘statue’, to monumentality. I want it to be investigative, and therefore not ‘impressive’, not believable.
— Jimmie Durham, 2003

Durham is one of very few contemporary artists to also have hands-on experience of political work. In the 1970s he was one of the leaders of the American Indian Movement and then the representative of the International Indian Treaty Council to the United Nations.

The title for the retrospective was also used for one of Durham’s first solo exhibitions in New York in the 1980s. “A Matter of Life and Death and Singing” reflects his seriousness and wit, his aesthetic and political engagement, his inventive resistance to architecture and other symbols of the state. All this is part of Durham’s uncompromising commitment to what he calls ‘humanity’s thinking process’.

Durham uses all the components of what is today called visual art: the object, the image, the word, the action. Images and words may be nailed or glued or painted onto objects, which may be made ‘live’ in front of an audience. This process may be captured on video. His work is ‘sculpture’ in the widest sense: material appearances in space. The materials range from wood and stone and bone to plastic tubes and printed text. Durham also works with drawing, painting and video, and he creates his own museums, sometimes in collaboration with his partner, the artist Maria Thereza Alves.

Durham’s retrospective at M HKA features more than 100 works from all his creative periods. Many of his ideas and images recur in different forms at different stages of his career, so the exhibition presents ‘ensembles’ of works that are not always chronologically organised.

Anders Kreuger, curator of the exhibition: ‘We have always had the ambition to put together the most complete retrospective, which would include the early work of the artist. This had been included in the Phaidon monograph published in 1995, but had never been presented in a retrospective exhibition. In this way, the exhibition Pierres rejetées at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2009 was devoted only to recent work. ” The exhibition From the West Pacific to the East Atlantic which was planned in Brussels but ultimately only took place in 2003 in the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Marseille and the Museum of Contemporary Art in The Hague, was supposed to be accompanied by a publication that was however never published.’

Anders Kreuger: ‘By comparison, this exhibition will be the most complete. Within the possibilities of the given available space, we want to present the best possible overview of the works; there will be between 120 and 130. We want to order these along certain chronological lines, but at the same time, we aim to reveal – through that very chronology – the links between the works. There are, for example, the ensembles ‘Dead animals and other spirits’, ‘Against Architecture’, and ‘Against Belief’, or ‘Stone as stone’ and ‘Stone as tool’ and there is also an ensemble that is an exhibition in itself, which he made for Manifesta in Trento. These are ensembles that reflect his thinking, but also his methodology. His identity as a writer comes into play, for example, in the sculptures that incorporate text, in the text works that are sometimes almost like essays in themselves, or in his books that can be perused in the exhibition. It is a very ‘dense’ exhibition, but this is fully in line with what he does… many of his exhibition projects were very ‘dense’ as well.

Born in the US in 1940 and based in Europe since 1994, Jimmie Durham is one of the most influential artists today and a prominent essayist and poet. His art and his thinking are of crucial importance to many artists, curators and theoreticians, not least of the younger generation.

The whole project is based on in-depth research and the creation of a substantial database, the M HKA Ensembles, which already contains all of Durham’s texts and information about more than 800 of his works. This is the beginning of a digital catalogue raisonné of Jimmie Durham’s oeuvre, which M HKA will continue to develop.

at MuHKA, Antwerp

until November 18, 2012

Above – Jimmie Durham, Self-Portrait Pretending to Be a Stone Statue of Myself. Courtesy of the artist and Christine König Galerie, Vienna. Photo Maria Thereza Alves

Jimmie Durham, Something (Perhaps a Fugue or an Elegy), 2005. Collection of Maurizio Morra Greco, Naples

Jimmie Durham, New York Gitli, 1986. Courtesy of the artist

Jimmie Durham, Cortez, 1991

Jimmie Durham, A Staff to Mark The Center of the World, 2004

Jimmie Durham, Arc de Triomphe for Personal Use (Grey), 2007. Collection of Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Jimmie Durham, Various Elements from the Actual World, 2009

Jimmie Durham, Racoon (Skunk), 1989

Jimmie Durham, A Dead Deer, 1986

Jimmie Durham, Es geht um die wurst , 1992

Jimmie Durham, Cortez, 1991. Collection SMAK

Jimmie Durham, Gilgamesh, 1993. Collection De Vleeshal, Middelburg

Jimmie Durham, La Malinche, 1988-1991. Collection SMAK. Photo Dirk Pauwels

Jimmie Durham, Rattlesnake Star, 1997. Collection Andrea and Johannes Teiser, Arnsberg

Jimmie Durham, Shrouds and swaddling clothes of decomissioned Saints, 1996. Collection Kurimanzutto, Mexico City

Jimmie Durham, St Frigo, 1996. Collection of the Ministry of Culture, Portugal

Jimmie Durham, Sweet Light Crude ,2008. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Michel Rein, Paris

Jimmie Durham, The Fountain of the Two Birds, 1997. Collection FRAC – PACA

Jimmie Durham, The names of the team of scientists who submitted an article on the human chromosome 14 in Nature magazine, February 2003. Collection Kolen Diensten bv, Eindhoven

Jimmie Durham, The Tower Was Equipped with a Glass Safety Shield, 2006. Collection Christine König Galerie, Vienna

Jimmie Durham, You Cannot Book a Judge under Cover, 2006. Collection Morra Greco, Naples

Jimmie Durham, Garçon, Garou, Gargouille, 1994. Collection FRAC Pays de la Loire. Photo Philippe De Gobert

Jimmie Durham, Arc de Triomphe for Personal Use (Yellow), 2007. Collection of Dena Foundation for Contemporary Art, Paris. Photo Jean-Louis Losi

Jimmie Durham, Jesus. Es geht um die Wurst, 1992. Collection M HKA. Photo Jochen Verghote

Related Articles
Dawn Kasper “The Wolf and The Head on Fire” at Portikus, Frankfurt/Main
(Read more)
“Happy People” at Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing
(Read more)
Cian Dayrit “Beyond the God’s Eye” at NOME, Berlin
(Read more)
Gaia Di Lorenzo “
WE CONTAIN EACH OTHER (Breve storia di una spugna)”
 at ADA, Rome
(Read more)
Philippe Van Snick “Overgangen” at EXILE, Vienna
(Read more)
“Mobilier Peint, Tout cela n’est rien, c’est la vie” at 40mcube, Rennes
(Read more)