Jimmie Durham

Jimmie Durham was born in 1940 in the US; he died in 2021 in Berlin, Germany.

He took his first artistic steps in the 60s in the fields of theatre, literature, and performance in the progressive African American circles in Texas. There, he worked with the Afro-American poet Vivian Ayers and performed with Mohamed Ali.

In 1968 he moved to Geneva and enrolled at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts. During that period, he made performative, sometimes sculptural work. Together with three other sculptors, he formed the Draga group which explored how art can become more integrated into public life.

In 1973, he returned to the US to join the American Indian Movement with whom he remained politically active until 1980. He co-established the International Indian Treaty Council, was involved in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 and became the Treaty Council’s representative at the United Nations – the first official representative of a minority group within the organisation.

In 1980 he returned to art. As an essayist, he remained concerned with the image of Native Americans and his artwork from this period both reflects and thematises this attitude, although it displays both a broader reflective quality and a stronger visual expression. Typical examples are his works with animal skulls.

During this time, Durham gained notoriety within the New York art scene, but found that his work was viewed as “Indian art” and it failed to encourage fundamental – political or artistic – discussions. In 1987, he left the US to live in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he remained until his move back to Europe in 1994.

This period was particularly fruitful in terms of international exhibitions. In 1988 he created Pocahontas and the Little Carpenter for Matt’s Gallery in London; had an exhibition at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in New York in 1992; and in 1993, the work A Certain Lack of Coherence travelled from the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London to the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the Kunstverein Hamburg. In 1992, Jan Hoet invited him as one of the key artists to Documenta IX in Kassel. For this, he created a large ensemble entitled Approach in Love and Fear, consisting of several sculptures and texts.

Jimmie Durham continued to write essays as part of his practice, many of which were published in magazines such as Artforum, Art Journal, and Third Text, as well as in various books. The 1993 publication A Certain Lack of Coherence, published by Kala Press, brings together a collection of his essays.

Since turning away from the Americas in 1994 and permanently moving to Europe, Jimmie Durham opposed two foundations of the European tradition: religion and architecture. Another theme that developed in many of his works was his vision of Europe, which he called Eurasia; Jimmie Durham saw himself as a “homeless Eurasian orphan”. In Europe, he successively lived in Brussels, Marseille, Rome, before spending his last years alternating between Berlin and Naples.

His work has been exhibited in several, key international locations: dOCUMENTA (13) and documenta IX in Kassel; the Venice Biennale in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2013 and 2019 where he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement; at Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and Whitney Museum, New York; at Serpentine Gallery, London; at M HKA, Antwerp; at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; in Marseille, The Hague and Gateshead; Sydney Biennial in 2004; Whitney Biennial in 1993, amongst others. In 2016 he was awarded the prestigious Goslarer Kaiserring. Jimmie Durham is among the artists selected for documenta fifteen in 2022.

Selected Solo Exhibitions

Museo Madre, Naples, Italy
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, US
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, US
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, US
Remai Modern, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland
M HKA, Antwerp, Belgium
Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France
Kunstverein München, Munich, Germany
Wittgenstein Haus, Vienna, Austria
Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent, Belgium
Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Belgium
ICA, London, UK
Kunstverein Hamburg, Germany
FRAC, Reims, France

Selected Publications

Jimmie Durham. At the Center of the World. Los Angeles et al. 2017

Particle/Word Theory. Wiens Verlag & Edition Hansjörg Mayer, Berlin & London 2020

Poems That Do Not Go Together. Wiens Verlag & Edition Hansjörg Mayer, Berlin & London 2012

Material. 100 Notes, No. 049, dOCUMENTA (13). Kassel / Ostfildern 2011

Rejected Stones / Pierres rejetées. Paris 2009

The Second Particle Wave Theory. Sunderland 2006

The American West. Comton Verney 2005 (Editor)

Between the furniture and the building / between a rock and a hard place. Köln 1998

Der Verführer und der Steinerne Gast. Wien 1996

Jimmie Durham. London 1995 (Monograph)

Schwabsky, Barry: The Unsettled Life and Art of Jimmie Durham. The Nation, June 21, 2023 (online)

After Jimmie Durham, Jess Chen on Jimmie Durham at Barbara Wien, Berlin
Texte zur Kunst, June 2022

The Usual Song & Dance Routine with a Few Minor Interruptions, a complete transcription of the Friday Event Lecture, Glasgow School of Art, January 29, 2010

Bart de Baere Jimmie Durham (1940–2021), November 18, 2021

Sheila Regan ‘Humanity is not a completed project’: Remembering Jimmie Durham (1940-2021), The Art Newspaper, November 18, 2021

Till Briegleb Der Radikale, der die Tauben fütterte, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 18. November, 2021

Jori Finkel Jimmie Durham, Sculptor Who Explored Indigenous Themes, Dies at 81, The New York Times, November 17, 2021

Jimmie Durham (1940–2021), Artforum International, November 17, 2021

Julia Halperin Jimmie Durham, Whose Trenchant Art Needled American Identity and Colonialism, Has Died at 81, artnet, November 17, 2021

Jimmie Durham Little Joe, art, April 2021

Paulina Pobocha in conversation with Jimmie Durham, Jimmie Durham’s Manhattan Life, MoMA Magazine, January 4, 2021

Kolja Reichert Seiner Eleganz kann man sich nicht entziehen. Lockerungen für den Eurozentrismus: Der Künstler und Schriftsteller Jimmie Durham wird achtzig, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nr. 158, 10. Juli 2020, S. 12

Jimmie Durham Receives 58th Venice Biennale Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award in: Artlyst, April 5, 2019

Jimmie Durham’s art throws some well-aimed stones, Los Angeles Times, February 2017

Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World review – America’s native son finally comes home, The Guardian, February 2017

Goslarer Kaiserring 2016, Presseinformation (deutsch)

Goslar Kaiserring 2016, Press release (english)

Dialogue about Songs of my Childhood i.a., Sammlung Hoffmann, September 24, 2015

ARTVIEWS in HEYOKA Magazine 2003 by Jimmie Durham

A Friend of Mine Said That Art is a European Invention by Jimmie Durham, Global Visions 1994

Interview with Kirsty Bell in Frieze Magazine, 2012

Review in Welt am Sonntag, 2012 (deutsch)