Daniel Birnbaum will leave his post as the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm next year to head up Acute Art, a company launched last year with an interest in creating virtual-reality and augmented-reality works in collaboration with artists. As director of Acute Art, Birnbaum will be charged with commissioning artists and overseeing the company’s exhibition programming.
Birnbaum has been the director of the Moderna Museet since 2010. Prior to that, he had been the director of the Städelschule in Frankfurt, Germany, where he also oversaw Portikus, the school’s exhibition space. In addition to his work for museums, he has been well known on the biennial circuit: he co-curated the international section of the 2003 Venice Biennale and was the artistic director of the Biennale’s 2009 edition, and he has also co-curated the 2005 and 2007 editions of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art and the 2008 edition of the Yokohoma Triennale. Birnbaum is also currently an adjunct board member of the Hilma Af Klint Foundation and a contributing editor at Artforum.
In a statement, Birnbaum called the decision to leave the Moderna Museet for a technology-affiliated art company a “move into an unknown territory.” He added, “Acute Art is a new kind of institution and is fast becoming a leader in the field of art and technology. This move marks an adventure, a journey in to the future.”
Birnbaum has long spoke of virtual reality and augmented reality as major developments for art-making. “Using VR with people you know will be like having a party when you’re a teenager and your parents come in and dance,” he told Douglas Coupland in a conversation published by Artforum last year.
Acute Art currently produces content for its website and an app, with many of its collaborations thus far undertaken with blue-chip artists. Jeff Koons created a VR work called Phryne, in which a ballerina guides the viewer through a garden, to “[teach] you to enjoy being human,” Koons said. Marina Abramović made the VR piece Rising, in which she appears in a tank that fills with water; when the viewer approaches her, Abramović and the viewer are transported to an icy landscape. More recently, Christo created a VR version of his London Mastaba, a floating 600-ton structure that recently debuted in London’s Serpentine Lake.
Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of London’s Serpentine Galleries and a longtime friend of Birnbaum, said of the Moderna Museet director’s departure, “With his immense wealth of knowledge and passionate drive Daniel has pushed the boundaries of the traditional art institutions and is now moving into new experiments with art and technology. I can’t wait to continue our many collaborations in these new spheres. It has only just begun.”