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Announcement
August 12, 2022

Dara Birnbaum: Journey

Miller ICA at Carnegie Mellon University

Dara Birnbaum, Journey: In the Shadow of the American Dream (still), 2022. Film. Courtesy of the Miller ICA.

Dara Birnbaum, Quiet Disaster. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion.

Dara Birnbaum, Arabesque, 2011. Installation view, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. © Dara Birnbaum. Photo: John Berens.

Dara Birnbaum, Computer Assisted Drawings: Proposal for Sony. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

An Aerial view of the Levittown housing project in Pennsylvania. Photo: Ed Latcham.

Street view of homes in Levittown, 1977.

Miller ICA at Carnegie Mellon University will present Dara Birnbaum: Journey, 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[1]. 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. 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.” The new work uses digitized 16mm 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.

[1]“Time Flies: US Adults Spend Nearly Half a Day Interacting with Media,” July 31, 2018, Nielsen.

First and second floor galleries of the Miller ICA open on August 20. The full exhibition opens on September 23, with the premiere of the newly commissioned work spanning the third floor. The book signing event will take place during the opening weekend of the 58th Carnegie International. Dara Birnbaum: Journey was generously supported by Carnegie Mellon University Alumna and Emeritus Trustee, Patti Askwith Kenner (MM, 1966), the Fine Foundation, and major support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. For more information visit here.

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