From 1986 until 1991, he studied at the University of Applied Arts Vienna (Peter Weibel) and the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Nam June Paik). He was a member of the 1990/91 Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York City. He is currently a professor of visual arts at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart.
Rainer Ganahl started his career exploring computer based art, a pioneering field for its time. His first exhibition in this area was demonstrated at Philomene Magers in 1990.
His best known work, S/L (Seminars/Lectures), is an ongoing series of photographs, begun in 1995, of well-known cultural critics addressing audiences. The photographs, taken in university class rooms and lecture halls, not only show the lecturer but also the listeners and students in the audience. In a similar way, he documented his own process of learning an “exotic” language (e. g., Basic Japanese) into an art project.
In his Imported-Reading Seminars held from 1995 onward, the group study of theoretical works from specific countries were documented on video. His exhibition "El Mundo" at Kai Matsumiya was recently listed as one of the top exhibitions of 2014 by the New York Times., and the film was subsequently acquired in the permanent collections at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hirschorn Collection at the Smithsonian.
Works by and on Rainer Ganahl
- Rainer Ganahl: Use a bicycle, Rainer Ganahl, Der Lehrling in der Sonne. The Apprentice in the Sun, L'apprenti dans le soleil, 2007. Revolver Verlag, Frankfurt, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. ISBN 978-3-86588-386-5
- Rainer Ganahl: MONEY AND DREAMS: COUNTING THE LAST DAYS OF THE SIGMUND FREUD BANKNOTE. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2005. ISBN 0-88214-565-7
- Rainer Ganahl, Road to War, 2005 - 240 pages. Published by MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Vienna), and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne. ISBN 3-88375-959-7
- William Kaizen, "Please, teach me" - Rainer Ganahl and the Politics of Learning, 2005
- Rainer Ganahl, NEXT TARGET - Versteinerte Politik / Petrified Politics, 2004. Published by GAK (Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen), and Revolver, Frankfurt. ISBN 3-86588-039-8
- Rainer Ganahl, lueneburger-heide-sprechen, revolver, Frankfurt 2003. ISBN 3-934823-56-4
- Rainer Ganahl, Reading Karl Marx, Book Works, London, 2001. ISBN 1-870699-57-2
- Rainer Ganahl (ed), IMPORTED - A Reading Seminar, Semiotext(e), New York 1998. ISBN 1-57027-076-7
- Rainer Ganahl: Base - Reviews: Florence. ArtForum, Feb 2003.
- Smith, Roberta (April 23, 2010). "Rainer Ganahl 'Language of Emigration and Pictures of Emigration". New York Times.
- "Hirshhorn New Acquisitions: Rainer Ganahl - Newsdesk". Smithsonian. March 17, 2015. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
- "Wallach Art Gallery Features Rainer Ganahl, the Politics of Learning". Columbia News. Columbia University. November 4, 2005. Retrieved March 28, 2016.