Dallas Museum of Art Presents Lothar Baumgarten, Carbon

Lothar Baumgarten: Carbon, which opens Sept. 19 at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), will be the most comprehensive presentation of Lothar Baumgarten’s (b. 1944) legendary project, which grew out of his six months of travel following America’s railroad tracks in 1989. Using a camera, dictating recorder, a pen and notebook, he richly recorded his experiences in diverse forms – which by the end included several thousand black and white and color photographs, plans for large scale wall drawings, journals, audio tapes, texts, and graphic design and typography studies – all of which were coalesced into the epic conceptual art work known as Carbon. Organized by the DMA and curated by John R. Lane, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, Lothar Baumgarten: Carbon will be on view through Dec. 5, 2004.

The Dallas exhibition will be presented in the Museum’s architecturally distinguished Barrel Vault and Quadrant Galleries. Installed by Baumgarten, it will be by far the largest presentation of this famed project yet mounted, including three hugely expansive wall drawings combining abstracted railway engineering monuments with a polyphony of railway names, 116 photographs, including an entire gallery of images made across Texas and in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and a range of art materials related to the development of the limited edition publication, itself an integral element of the project and, on its own, considered to be one of the most beautiful and significant artist’s books of the late 20th century.

“Having long been an admirer of Lothar Baumgarten’s work, as well as personally possessing an interest in the history and art history of railroads, it is a particular pleasure to be able to offer a comprehensive look at Carbon in a format that underscores just how ambitious and artistically remarkable this grand project is,” said Dr. Lane. “Baumgarten’s complex and poetic examination of the impact of the railroads on the geography, people, and history of our country resonates with themes still very strongly felt today, and the exhibition provides a unique opportunity for Texas and the region to experience familiar landscapes in a dramatically different context.”

Carbon reflects Baumgarten’s intense interest in the social and anthropological aspects of different places and cultures. With Carbon, the viewer sees not only what is there, but inevitably considers what came before: Native Americans, who once populated the land; the pioneers who then settled; and the rise and later diminishment of the railroads as major actors upon and metaphors for national development.

The word “carbon” refers to the fuel on which engines run and the Carbon 14 dating process that establishes the age of ancient cultural artifacts. “Carbon carries simultaneous implications of progressive activity and of reflection on the strata of history, be it geological or human. For Baumgarten, this same meaning equates his view of America: he admires the engineering, but is skeptical of the ethics; he loves the people while he wonders about the policies of the nation,” Lane said.

Exhibition support provided by Mr. and Mrs. John Ford Lacy and by the Contemporary Art Fund through the gifts of an anonymous donor, Naomi Aberly and Laurence Lebowitz, Arlene and John Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Faulconer, Nancy and Tim Hanley, The Hoffman Family Foundation, Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, Evelyn P. and Edward W. Rose, and Gayle and Paul Stoffel. Additional support provided by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation representing The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company.

About Lothar Baumgarten
Born in Rheinsberg, Germany in 1944, Lothar Baumgarten attended the Kunstakademie Karlsruhe and, from 1968 to 1971, studied with Josef Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He was influenced by the structuralist theories of Claude Levi-Strauss and became interested in applying anthropological methodologies used to construct “the other” to question Western perceptions. Known for high aesthetic sensitivity combined with a sophisticated employment of the language of conceptual art, Baumgarten’s works tend to involve a personal engagement with and a commitment to broad social issues. His work was first included in Documenta in 1972 and he represented Germany in the 1984 Venice Biennale, where he was awarded a prize for his installation in the German pavilion. Following the Venice Biennale, he was invited to participate with a major commission in the 1988 Carnegie International. Wall drawings and photographs from the Carbon project have been shown at museums and galleries nationally and internationally. His book of the same title was published in 1991 by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and was subsequently included in rare book connoisseur Andrew Roth’s important compendium, The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the 20th Century.