Jimmie Durham

Article Bio Works Projects
identity, marginalisation, nature, shamanism
Visual Arts (drawing, installation art, painting, performance, sculpture, video art)
America, North, Europe, Western
United States of America, Germany
Berlin, Brussels, Cuernavaca, Geneva, New York
created on:
May 9, 2003
last changed on:
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Jimmie Durham
"Jimmie Durham with goethe-ite." Copyright m.t.alves


An exploration of the world

“Some collide, some escape”: This was the title of a 2005 exhibition of works by Jimmie Durham that was held in a former cow barn belonging to Berlin’s Humboldt-Universität. The barn had been a site of agricultural research in the days of socialism. “Some collide, some escape” – a good name for Durham’s art, which is made up of contradictions.
Durham opened “Some collide, some escape” with a vegetarian performance – he ate a flower – and, in the university cow barn, revealed his artistic cosmos. On display were an old toothbrush among rotten apples, medical instruments adorned with feathers, egg shells, bones, pelts and a good deal more. The exhibition constituted an exploration of the world, an exploration of the everyday. Durham’s presentations were at times called “Alltags-Ethnologien” – ethnologies of the everyday.

There are many strands in Durham’s art. He was born in Washington, Arkansas in 1940 and is of Cherokee descent. He is a poet as well as a visual and performance artist. In the 1960s he realized theater projects, and he mounted his first solo exhibition in 1965 in Austin. In 1969 he moved to Geneva, later to Mexico. Durham’s work as an artist cannot be seen separately from his engagement as a political activist and leading proponent of the Native American civil rights movement since the early 1960s. He was a co-founder of the International Indian Treaty Council and represented the organization at the United Nations. In 1998 Durham moved to Berlin, where he lived initially as a guest of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

As an artist, Durham oscillates between many poles. Text and language define his work. It often contains a wonderful poetic quality, as in the piece he created for the 1992 documenta exhibition in Kassel. He called the small, casually presented two-part stone work “This Stone is from the Mountain / This Stone is from the Red Palace.” The piece was a greatly ironic highlight of that year’s show, and a commentary on our exhibition culture, on the reverence with which we encounter exhibited works. They should not be believed, he once wrote – just as we should renounce faith in general: “Believe nothing. Belief is an evil, inhuman phenomenon. Humans evolved to question and to investigate; not to believe.”

Durham called another exhibition, held at the Kunstverein in Munich, “Between the Furniture and the Building.” Here he showed “St. Frigo,” a refrigerator that had been demolished by hurled stones – the “opposite of a sculpture,” as he put it: “It took nine or ten days. Every morning I threw stones at the refrigerator. It was as if I were just going to work. You leave home early in the morning and throw cobblestones at the fridge, until you’ve changed its shape … Instead of carving a sculpture out of the stone with tools, I wanted to use the stone itself as a tool. Not to create a new form, but to change an already existing object.” Stoning an innocent refrigerator – is it rage that is being articulated here?

Works by Durham present themselves in diverse ways. He has designed a stage set for an opera at the Staatsoper in Berlin; in his exhibitions he has displayed petrified cake, a petrified rubber ball, and an over-dimensioned locked iron door lying on the floor. Often the artist aims to evoke confusion. Another important area of his work is artist’s books that combine literary texts with photographs of his performances or with drawings. In them, Durham muses at length about language, words and writing, their origins and their functions.

It is perhaps fitting that the artist deals with the origins of words – he who all his life has restlessly moved from country to country, who once described himself as a “homeless orphan” who has no home but never stops longing for one. Durham sees himself neither as an Indian nor as an American artist. He has lived in Marseille, Brussels, many places in the United States, in Mexico and Europe, and now in Rome.

His art is hardly imaginable without this constant change of location. Durham is a gatherer, an arranger of the everyday. He brings things together, arranges – or destroys: He once demolished an exhibition display case with a stone that, according to the artist, came from Metternich’s house. But can one believe him? One thing is true in any case: In Sydney he dropped a huge boulder onto a perfectly good car.

Author: Marc Peschke


Jimmie Durham was born in 1940 in Washington, Arkansas, in the USA and belongs to the Cherokee Indians. Since the mid-60s he has given performance (´My Land´, in the Alley Theatre, Houston, Texas, with Muhammed Ali and Vivian Allen in 1964) and has published poems as well as articles in the alternative press of Austin, Texas. In 1969 he moved to Geneva, where he gave many street performances in 1972 and then studied at the École des Beaux Arts at the university. In 1973 he moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Till 1980 he was a member of the central council of the American Indian movement, from 1975-9 also the executive director of the International Treaty Council in New York and its representative in the UNO as well as the co-publisher of Treaty Council News from 1975-80 and the author of many political articles. From 1981-3 Durham was the director of the Foundation for the Community of Artists (FCA) in New York and from 1982-5 the publisher of the magazine ´Art and Artist Newspaper´. In 1986, together with Jean Fisher he took care of the mobile exhibition ´Ni Go Tlunh a Doh ka´ / ´We are always turning around on purpose? in the State University of New York in Old Westbury, and in 1987 the exhibition ´We The People´ in the Artists Space in New York. From 1987-94 he lived and worked in Mexico, then in Tokyo, Dublin and Ghent. He spent two years in Brussels and was then in Marseilles and Stockholm. In 1997 he was given a daad award for Berlin, where he has been living and working with Maria Thereza Alves sind 1998.

Durham has published many poems and texts in books and magazines like Artforum, Art Journal, Black Scholar and Third Text. Four poems appeared in Harper´s Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry (New York / San Francisco: Diane Niatum / Harper & Row, 1988. He has illustrated many catalogues for exhibitions like ´10 Voyages conceptual´ and ´Resurrection´ (both at the Stella Lohaus Gallery, Antwerp, 1995 and 1996) and published art books: ´Do it´ (1994 and 1996); ´Der Verführer und der Steinerne Gast´ (1996); ´Unbuilt Roads´ (1997); ´Between the Furniture and the Building (Between a Rock und a Hard Place)´ (1998); ´Facts & Fiction: Arte e narrazione´ (1998); ´Stoneheart´ (2001). He has also brought anthologies out like ´The East London Coelacanth´ (London: ICA / Bookworks, 1992) and ´A certain lack of coherence. Writings on art and cultural politics" (London: Kala Press, 1994).


Durham, Jimmie. Rejected Stones… / Pierres rejetées…

Published Written,
Catalogue (FR./EN). Edited by Musée d´art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Texts by Pascal Beausse, Sandra Cattini, Anselm Franke, Anri Sala and others

The Second Particle Wave Theory

Published Written,
Edited by Robert Blackson & Candice Hopkins (EN). Sunderland

The American West

Published Written,
Catalogue (EN). Curators: Jimmie Durham and Richard Hill. Texts by Jimmie Durham, Jean Fisher, Bonnie Fultz, Jen Budney, Simon Ortiz, Richard William Hill. Comton Verney

Jimmie Durham

Published Written,
Catalogue (EN/IT). Texts by Jimmie Durham, Anna Daneri, Roberto Pinto and others. Milano

Stone Heart

Published Written,

Fact and Fiction: Arte e narrazione

Published Written,

Between the Furniture and the Building (Between a Rock and a Hard Place)

Published Written,

Unbuilt Roads

Published Written,

Der Verführer und der Steinerne Gast

Published Written,

Jimmie Durham

Published Written,
by Laura Mulvey/Dirk Snauwaert/Mark Alice Durant, London: Phaidon Press 1995

A certain lack of coherence. Writings on art and cultural politics

Published Written,
London: Kala Press, 1994

The East London Coelacanth

Published Written,
London: ICA / Bookworks, 1992


Exhibition / Installation
2004 Lies Lust Art & Fashion, Podewil, Berlin 2001 Triennale, Yokohama More Works about Buildings and Food, Hangar 7, Oeiras/Lisbon Biennale, Venice 4Free, BüroFriedrich, Berlin Bosch, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam Ars 01, Kiasma, Helsinki 2000 Over the Edges, S.M.A.K., Ghent Initiare, Centro Cultural de Belem, Lisbon Indoor, S.M.A.K., Ghent Heimat Kunst, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin Around 1984, PS 1, New York Alte Synagoge, Saloniki Les figures de la marche, Musée Picasso, Antibes Waterfront, Kathedrale, Helsingborg/Sweden Five Continents and One City, Museo de la Ciudad, Mexico City 1999 Indoor, Musée d´Art Contemporain, Lyons Biennale, Venice Originale echt falsch, Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen With Nothing Up Our Sleeves, Centre for Contemporary Art, Sittard/Netherlands Echigo-Tsumari Biennale, Matsunoyama/Japan L´ultimo disegno del 1999, Zerynthia, Rome 1998 Ucelli/Birds, The Bird Park, Paliano/Italy Non-Painters Painting, Galerie Berlin Tokyo, Berlin Indoor, The Old School House, Serre di Rapolano/Italy Crossings, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Self-Portraits, Academy of Art, Malmö 1997 Around Us, Inside Us, Museum for Contemporary Art, Boras/Sweden Hora Est, Stedelijk Het Domain Museum, Sittard/Netherlands Summerproject, Stefan Andersson Gallery, Umea/Sweden Citta natura, Palazzo delle Esposizioni u.a., Rome Galleria Via Farini, Milan Biennale, Istanbul Jingle Bells, Galleria Maximo di Carlo, Milan 1996 Meridian Crossing, Monastery Plasy, Plasy/Chechen Flags, Culturgest, Lisbon 1995 Maisons Cerveaux, La Ferme du Buisson, Noisel/France Strangers in the Artic, Rundetarn, Copenhagen 1994 "don´t look now", Thread Waxing Space, New York Fire! Or Imperialism! (Performance): Outside the Frame. Performance Art and The Object, Cleveland/Ohio Beelden Buitin 94, Centrum Gildhof, Tielt/Belgium Economies, Galerie Roger Pailhas, Marseilles Cocido y crudo, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid Faret Tachikawa Project, Art Front Gallery, Tokyo Transformers. The Art of Multiphrenia, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Anandale; Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University; University of Michigan Museum of Art 1993 Rendez(-)vous, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York On taking a normal situation..., Museum of Contemporary Art (MUHKA), Antwerp States of Loss - Migration, Displacement, Colonialism and Power, Jersey City Museum, New Jersey 1992 America - Bride of the Sun, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp Documenta IX, Kassel Dissent, Difference and the Body Politic, Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Otis Parsons School of Art and Design, Los Angeles Will/Power, Wexner Center for Visual Arts, Columbus/Ohio Land, Spirit, Power, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Regarding America (Ante América), Banco de la República, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Santafé de Bogotá; Queens Museum of Art, New York For the Seventh Generation. Native American Artists Counter the Quincentenary, Golden Artists Colors Gallery, Columbus/New York Mistaken Identities, University Art Museum of California, Santa Barbara/California etc. (Installation und Performance with Maria Thereza Alves and Alan Michelson): Edge 92 Festival, Madrid and London (Installation and Performance with Maria Thereza Alves): Museo de Monterrey, Monterrey/Nuevo León 1991 Souvenir of Site Seeing. Travel and Tourism in Contemporary Art, Whitney Museum of American Art - Downtown, New York Savage (Performance): Time Festival, Museum van Hedendaags Kunst, Ghent The Subversive Stitch, Simon Watson, New York Spiritual Cargo. Shamanistic Manifestations, Atrium Gallery, Connecticut The Interrupted Life, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 1990 Crazy for Life (Performance): Dance Theater Workshop, New York The Self-Taught Artist (Performance): Exit Art, New York Catskills Give-away (Performance): Art Awareness Lexington, New York Savoir Faire, Savoir Vivre, Savoir Etre, Centre International d´Art Contemporain de Montréal, Québec Savagism and You (Performance): Whitney Museum Downtown, New York Holy Wars, Exit Art, New York (Performance): Orchard Gallery, Derry 1989 Hermeneutical Considerations of the Bishop´s Moose (Performance): Exit Art, New York 1998 Re-Visions, Walter Philips Gallery, Banff/Alberta Acts of Faith, Cleveland State University, Southeast Massachusetts University, North Dartmouth Four Scenes for the British Army (Performance): Orchard Gallery, Derry 1987 I want to Say Something (Performance): La Mamma Theater, New York Rider with No Horse, American Indian Gallery The Law and Order Show, John Weber Gallery, Leo Castelli Gallery, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Paula Cooper Gallery, all in New York The Soaring Spirit, Morris Museum, Morristown/New Jersey 1986 Start Again, Ground Zero, New York New Art, New York, Harlem School of the Arts, New York Por encima el bloqueo, Museo del Chopo, Mexico City; Centro Wifredo Lam, Havana Mixed Media, Mixed Mores, U.S. Courthouse, New York 1985 Forecast. Images of the Future, Kenkeleba Gallery, New York New York Indians´ Perspectives, American Indian Community House Gallery, New York Traditions and Modern Configurations, AAA Art New York, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem Manhattan Give-away (Performance): Franklin Furnace, New York Personal History Public Address, Minor Injury Gallery, Brooklyn/New York Dimensions in Dissent, Kenkeleba Gallery, New York 1984 Call and Response. Art on Central America, Colby College, Waterville/Maine Racist America (Performance: A Trick), Dramatis Personae Gallery, New York Art Against Apartheid, Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York 1983 Invitational. 14 Sculptors Gallery, New York Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America, Judson Memorial Church, New York Thanksgiving (Performance): PS 122, New York 1982 Beyond Aesthetics, Henry Street Settlement, New York Ritual and Rhythm, Kenkeleba Gallery, New York Manhattan Festival of the Dead (Performance): No Thanks Festival, New York


Exhibition / Installation
2008 Jimmie Durham, Museo D´Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina - MADRE, Naples, Italy 2007 Bestiary, Lumen Travo, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Jimmie Durham, de Pury & Luxembourg, Zurich, Switzerland Labyrinth, Galerie Michel Rein, Paris, France Templum: il sacro, il profano, e altro, Volume!, Rome, Italy Form and Substance, Batagianni Gallery, Athens, Greece knew urk - Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, BC, Canada 2006 Building a Nation, Matt´s Gallery, London, UK JIMMIE DURHAM - Glass, Christine König Galerie, Vienna, Austria Jimmie Durham - Elements and Materials from my atelier in Berlin´s Grunewald Forest, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany 2005 Jimmie Durham: Knew Urk, The Banff Centre - Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, AB, Canada Jimmie Durham, Knew Urk, Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland, UK 2004 Le ragioni della leggerezza, Galleria Francosoffiantino Artecontemporanea, Turin, Italy 2003 Jimmie Durham, Batagianni Gallery, Athens, Greece Jimmie Durham – Semi-Specific Objects and Almost-Related Words, Leopold Hoesch Museum, Düren, Germany Jimmie Durham – From the West Pacific to the East Atlantic, GeM - Museum voor Actuele Kunst, The Hague, The Netherlands 2001 Solverberget Gallery, Stavanger/Norway 2000 Centre for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu/Japan Barbara Vienna. Bookshop - Publishing House - Gallery, Berlin Stones at Home, Christine König Gallery, Vienna Denkzeichen 4. November 1989, Alexanderplatz, Berlin Nordenhake Gallery, Stockholm 1999 Galerie Carrousel, Paris Museu do Chiado, Lisbon Anders Tornberg Gallery, Lund 1998 Self-Portraits, Tanya Rumpff Gallery, Haarlem École Regionale des Beaux-Arts, Rouen Semi-Precious, Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam Drawings, daad-galerie, Berlin 1997 1000 Objects for the 1000 Years Anniversary of Trondheim, Academy of Art, Trondheim Works, Nordenhake Gallery, Stockholm The Center of the World at Chalma, Pori Museum for Contemporary Art, Pori Micheline Szwajcer Gallery, Antwerp 1996 La porte de l´Europe, Galerie de la Ancienne Poste, Calais (catalogue) Le leçon de l´anatomie, Galerie le College, Rheims (catalogue) The Libertine and the Stone Guest, Wittgenstein Haus, Vienna (catalogue) Anders Tornberg Gallery, Lund M.A.J.T., Lille (Videos) 1995 Ropa vieja Spring Collection, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, New York Modulo Centro Difusor de Arte, Lisbon A Staff for the Center of the World in Siberia, Yakutsk The Center of the World, De Vleeshal, Middelburg/Netherlands (catalogue) 1994 Architexture, Micheline Szwajcer Gallery, Antwerp 1993 Centre d´Art du Domaine Kerguéhennec, Bignan-Locminé/France (with Ricardo Brey and Michelangelo Pistoletto) Kunsthalle, Fribourg (with David Hammons and Pedro Cabrita Reis) Various Gates and Escape Routes, L. A. Louver, Venice/California A certain Lack of Coherence, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels Original Re-runs, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin; Kunstverein, Hamburg (catalogue) 1992 Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, New York 1991 John Rollin Ridge, Zorro and the Joad Family Players, The Luggage Store, San Francisco C. N. Gorman Museum, University of California, Davis/California (with Brian Tripp) 1989 The Bishop´s Moose and the Pinkerton Man, Exit Art, New York; Western Washington University, Bellingham; Museum of Civilisation, Hull/Quebec (catalogue) 1988 Pocahontas and the Little Carpenter in London, Matt´s Gallery, London (catalogue) Orchard Gallery, Derry (catalogue) 1986 John Jay College, New York 1985 Bedia´s First Basement, 22 Wooster Gallery, New York A Matter of Life and Death and Singing, Alternative Museum, New York (catalogue) 1972 Circa Gallery, Geneva École des Beaux-Arts, Geneva 1971 Centre des Rencontres, Geneva Circa Gallery, Geneva 1967 University of Texas, Austin Adept Gallery, Houston


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

On rage

Exhibition, Film, Discourse

(14 March 10 - 09 May 10)

Homeland Art (HeimatKunst)

Cultural Diversity in Germany

(01 April 00 - 02 July 00)