Dara Birnbaum: Journey, is a survey of Dara Birnbaum’s influential practice. This exhibition reviews the trajectory of Birnbaum’s penetrative interrogations of mass media during a period of time when technological transformations enabled seismic shifts in the mass consumption of information and entertainment. Over the past 45 years, Birnbaum’s work has consistently reclaimed power within and against dominant media paradigms that control access to information and transmit encoded ideologies.
This exhibition comes at a time when the media’s role in shaping American culture and politics is more potent than ever. In 1977, Birnbaum took note that the Nielsen ratings reported the average American family watched television up to seven hours and twenty minutes per day and thus, she realized “that’s what [she] had to go after”. Now media’s overall influence has only strengthened. In 2018, Nielsen Total Audience Report showed that American adults spend over eleven hours a day interacting with media. This steady diet of information, delivered through ubiquitous and pervasive technology, wields enormous power globally.
Curated by Elizabeth Chodos, Director of the Miller ICA, Dara Birnbaum: Journey traces the artist’s evolving examinations of media throughout her career and will include the premiere of a new work commissioned by the Miller ICA, Journey: Shadow of the American Dream. In the working notes for the commission, Birnbaum wrote: “At my age of 75, there is the strong desire to review and bring to the viewer an understanding of growing up in this ‘shadow’ of WWII, the period when the American Dream was weaponized by the United States, after emerging ‘victorious’ from this world war.” In Journey: Shadow of the American Dream, Birnbaum journeys across time by working with digitized 16 mm footage taken by her father of the earliest years, of her life—a period when the narrative of the American Dream most strongly took hold. The reflective gesture of revisiting another era through family footage coincides with the opening of Dara Birnbaum: Reaction, Birnbaum’s first retrospective in the United States, which is curated by Lauren Cornell at the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College. In this politically polarized moment in America, after a lifetime of engaging what Cornell describes as a “practice [of unsettling] power structures and narratives as they endeavor to become established” through “media and the way it communicates,” it makes perfect sense that Birnbaum would turn her gaze toward the origins not only of her own life, but also the genesis of the powerful national narrative that has reached its denouement.
Both exhibitions are accompanied by the new publication, Dara Birnbaum: Reaction, which demonstrates Birnbaum’s ongoing and indelible influence. Contributors for this book include: The Hessel Museum of Art’s Chief Curator Lauren Cornell; writer and 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, with an afterword to the conversation by Elizabeth Chodos. The book was designed by Beverly Joel of pulp, ink., published by Dancing Foxes Press, and focuses on fresh scholarship around Birnbaum’s work. This new volume continues a rich line of research and writing on Birnbaum, all of which have benefited greatly from the artist’s contribution and vision.
Dara Birnbaum was born in New York in 1946 where she continues to live and work. She received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, a B.F.A. in Painting from the San Francisco Art Institute, and a Certificate in Video and Electronic Editing at the Video Study Center at the New School for Social Research, New York.
Beginning in the 1970s, Dara Birnbaum’s trailblazing video, media, and installation work has addressed the ideological and aesthetic character of mass media imagery and has been considered fundamental to our understanding of the history of media art. She was one of the first artists to use manipulated television and media footage and is widely recognized as one of the most influential artists of her time.
Birnbaum's work is the subject of the retrospective Dara Birnbaum: Reaction, at the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College, New York (2022), and has been widely exhibited at MoMA PS1, New York (2019); National Portrait Gallery, London (2018); Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio (2018); South London Gallery, UK (2011); major retrospectives at the Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal (2010) and S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent, Belgium (2009); Center for Contemporary Art, CCA Kitakyushu (2009); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2008); Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria (2006); and The Jewish Museum, New York (2003); her work was exhibited in Documenta 7, 8, and 9.
Birnbaum has been the recipient of various distinguished awards such as: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2021); The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Arts Residency (2011); the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2011); and the prestigious United States Artists Fellowship (2010). In 2016, she was recognized and honored for her work by The Kitchen, New York, at their annual gala. She is the first woman in video to receive the prestigious Maya Deren Award by the American Film Institute, in 1987. In February 2017, Carnegie Mellon University's School of Art created The Birnbaum Award in the artist’s honor.
“Time Flies: US Adults Spend Nearly Half a Day Interacting with Media,” July 31, 2018, https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2018/time-flies-us-adults-now-spend-nearly-half-a-day-interacting-with-media.
First and second floor galleries of the Miller ICA open on August 20th. The full exhibition opens on September 23rd, with the premiere of the newly commissioned work spanning the third floor.
Dara Birnbaum: Journey was curated by Elizabeth Chodos, the director of the Miller ICA, assistant professor of curatorial practice in the School of Art, and the public art curator for Carnegie Mellon University. The exhibition was generously supported by Carnegie Mellon University Alumna and Emeritus Trustee, Patti Askwith Kenner (MM, 1966), an indefatigable advocate for social causes; The Fine Foundation; and with major support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Image credit: Still from Journey: Shadow of the American Dream, 2022. Commissioned by the Miller ICA.