A Trailblazing Lesbian Artist Gets Her Due, Hyperallergic

Posted 08/7/19


touch me and let me touch you
for the personal is political
language waivers with desire
it is skin
with which I caress the other

Harmony Hammond, Blood Journals (1994)

RIDGEFIELD, Connecticut — Contested bodies take center stage in Material Witness, Five Decades of Art, an audacious, and long overdue, museum survey of lesbian artist and activist, Harmony Hammond at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

An impressive medley of aesthetic strategies (rips, sutures, holes, fragments, patches, stitches, wrappings, knots) combined with a startling array of painterly, handmade and found materials (repurposed fabric, linoleum, metal, charred wood, grommets, burlap, natural straw, leaves, root, hair,blood, latex rubber) characterize the visual lexicon of this pioneering artist’s work.

Hammond’s work can appear bewildering at first, expansive in its diametrical explorations, and sprawlingin its material juxtapositions. The exhibition, which takes place over four galleries, encompassing paintings, drawings, textiles, sculptures, and installations from the 1970s to the present day, eschews chronology – an astute choice by the curator, Amy Smith-Stewart. Polemical considerations and

biographical detail, more than formal developments, explicate Hammond’s multivalent practice, whichstraddles feminism, abstraction, and sexual politics.

Hammond was born in a lower middle-class suburb of Chicago in 1944 and studied art in Decatur, Illinois, before moving to Minneapolis with her husband, Stephen Clover, an artist who came out as gay within ayear of their marriage. Hammond’s early work was expressive and figurative, but she later adopted thehard-edged abstraction of Minimalism which, along with Pop and Conceptual Art, was in vogue in the 60s. Her male contemporaries, most notably Frank Stella and Carl Andre (whose influences can be felt inHammond’s work), rejected the expressive drives that had characterized Abstract Expressionism’s “action painting” the decade prior, electing instead an industrial vocabulary of materials and processes that erased sentient corollaries of gesture and touch.

In the August following the Stonewall Riots in June ’69, Hammond and Clover moved to New York. Thecity was a hotbed of political activity. The Civil Rights movement, coupled with the women’s movement,antiwar protests, and the start of the Gay Liberation movement put New York on the cusp of a social and cultural revolution. Second-wave feminism was just around the corner. The couple separated, but Hammond was pregnant. She later gave birth to a daughter, Tanya.

In the first gallery, I am drawn to “Little Suture” (2001–2), an abstract painting with assemblage elements. It is bifurcated into oppositional color schemes — cadmium reds and greens, at once somber and saturated — with a found rectangular corrugated metal sheet running down its center.

The painting is uncannily corporeal, a coincidence of duality and oneness, denoting both flesh and spirit. The impasto surface, with its gentle, throbbing monochromes, evoke the pulsations of the body — the heartbeat, blood cells, and veins — while the undulating, rusted sheet of metal, resembling a rib cage and spinal cord, is marked with delicate streaks of red, redolent of both blood and an electrical charge.

For a few years in the early ‘70s, Hammond was part of a feminist consciousness raising group in NewYork. The group, which included the painter Louise Fishman, came to understand that women as a class were oppressed, and their work was not taken seriously. A wall text in the exhibition quotes Hammond:“For me the painting skin, that edge where art and life meet, always relates to the body as site.”

By locating the body as a site, Hammond marshals the female body out of a state of passivity into the world of energy, and action. The conflation of consciousness and activism — her singular contribution to the expanded fields of post-minimalism and queer art — is at the heart of Hammond’s complexexperiments with abstraction.

In the corridor leading from the first gallery to the second, on the museum’s ground floor, there is a seriesof smaller works completed between 1993 and 2005, done at various stages in the artist’s life. “BloodJournals (Giorno I–X)” (1994) is a riveting series of works on paper the artist made while at theRockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Northern Italy. While there, she used her menstrual blood, along with watercolor, charcoal, ink, and stickers, to scrawl cryptic messages on paper. Menstrual blood, considered a taboo bodily fluid, had already been used by other feminist artists, including Carolee Schneemann and Judy Chicago, to situate the female body as a place of political agency.

One of the works read: “touch me and let me touch you/for the personal is political/language waivers with desire/it is skin/with which I caress the/other.” Barely legible, the lesbian voice, a specter of unspokendesires, is inscribed with blood as a palimpsest on paper, a record of its being. The fourth wall has comedown, the actor in the play has revealed herself: it’s the most unmasked work in the show.

A sense of peril lurks just beneath the script, a sense that articulating these thoughts, feelings, gestureshave the potential to provoke violence, from within and without. The script’s intimation of same-sex intimacy as the harbinger of sexual politics transforms this work into a conceptual and moral fulcrum, upon which everything else that comes later delicately hinges.

Touch, as a radical gesture, continues to resonate in Hammond’s “wrapped sculptures” which are located sporadically throughout the exhibition. “Kong” (1981), the largest of these, is an aggrandized hand which, according to the wall text, belongs to “a spatial invader or interloper.” Or, perhaps alternately, to a lesbian who, having lived in the closet for far too long, pries her way out to claim her power. If “Kong” represents a corpus of power, then an unfurling hand could be a convenient metaphor for “coming out” and suchrelated idiomatic expressions as “taking power back in one’s hands.”

Made of foam rubber, gesso, glitter, wax and charcoal powder, these wrapped wooden armatures, which have a fantastical quality to them, were conjured up by a line in Monique Wittig’s 1973 novel Le Corps Lesbien (The Lesbian Body), in which she writes, “Cloth covered with latex suggests muscle and tissue.” These “wrapped sculptures” convey a muscular grace, as if Minimalism itself got a camp makeover par elegance.

Hammond, who came out as a lesbian in 1973, was on the forefront of the feminist and lesbian artmovement in New York in the early ‘70s. She was a founding member of A.I.R., the first women’scooperative gallery in the city, and of the journal Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art and Politics. She organized A Lesbian Art Show, the first of its kind, at 112 Greene Street Workshop in Soho in 1978, and her book, Lesbian Art in America (2000), is still the definitive tome on the subject. “It’s not only about making our work,” as Hammond writes in an Artsy post commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, “we also have to document and preserve it and insist on a place in history or it will be erased.”

Feminist artists of the era, Hammond included, celebrated handicrafts from both the domestic space and non-Western cultures as a cultural antithesis to Western patriarchal art histories that positioned white men at the center of the narrative. Through consciousness-raising activities and particularly her practice of t’ai chi ch’uan and Aikido, martial arts originating in China and Japan, respectively, Hammond learned to claim space through mindful and precise bodily movements. In the second gallery, Hammond harnesses this spiritual knowledge and applies it to female labor with “Floorpiece II-VI” (1973), a group of brightlycolored mandala-like painted floor sculptures, braided from the inside out, that resemble household rugs.

Made the same year the artist came out, these works also reflect her personal gesture of cutting off herbraided ponytail. The floor pieces’ “braids,” made of commercial knit fabric waste collected from dumpsters, became Hammond’s idiom for a lesbian aesthetic. Hammond believed that the braids, whenwoven together and placed horizontally, reflect states of similitude and intimacy, making it a ripe lesbian metaphor for same-sex communal empathy and love; and one born out of a female consciousness.

“Presences” (1971-72), a group of six crudely made headless effigies adorned in painted and weathered rags, haunt the third gallery, on the second floor. The work, first shown at A.I.R. Gallery, has beenrestaged 46 years later (which speaks to the pitiful economy for women’s art, even when it’s this important, but that’s a different topic).

Hung by coarse rope affixed to coat hangers, this “rag tag army of women occupying space,” asHammond describes them, feels more like a public execution site: I imagine a lynching scene of Salemwitches. The use of coat hangers is also a particularly chilling reminder of the country’s all-too-virulent abortion wars, in which the coat hanger has become a national symbol for dissent against regulatingwomen’s bodies.

In 1984, Hammond took a trip out to New Mexico, and like her forbears, Georgia O’Keefe and AgnesMartin, she never returned to city life. She settled out in Galisteo, commuting to teach in Tucson, Arizona, until she retired in 2006. The ruggedness of the land — its distinct cultural history and rural aesthetic — is evident in the later work on display in the last gallery, accentuating it with a sense of place, and oddly enough, a new sense of belonging.

To be a lesbian, writes Martha Gever, “means engaging in a complex, often treacherous, system of cultural identities, representations and institutions, and a history of sexual regulation” (quoted in Hammond’s Introduction to Lesbian Art in America). Throughout her work, Hammond has generouslyextended the definition of the word “lesbian” to include all women on the social fringes, who have beendowntrodden, forgotten, and marginalized.

“Chicken Lady” (1989), a large work made of corrugated roofing, a colorful embroidered quilt left behind by her close friend, the artist Ann Wilson, and a painted text from a letter she received from Marian Doherty, an A.I.R. intern (also reproduced in the gallery) is among the works that reinforce this claim, referring to a notational character in Hammond’s universe of misfits on the peripheries of gender andsocial class, a fictional woman who lived along a riverside with her chickens.

“Chicken Lady,” along with “Inappropriate Longings” (1992), a large triptych hanging diagonally acrossfrom it, a metal bucket of leaves set down in front, are resolutely situated within a locale, rather than a state of consciousness. They reveal genius loci, a spirit of a place. Did Hammond finally locate a sense of belonging in the vast arid plains of the Southwest? It would appear so.

The last set of works in Material Witness are Hammond’s most recent paintings. Constructed in viscouspaint with embedded grommets, straps, pushpins, laces, ropes, folds, flaps, seams, cloth strips, andpatches of coarse burlap, these austere and monumental “near monochromes” have the presence ofhermetically sealed bodies that are synchronously wounded and healing.

With their symbolic orifices, blood, rips, cuts, smears, wounds, scabs, and bandages, they communicate simultaneous states of rapture and rupture, and a host of erotic and esoteric associations that relate toflesh and spirit. There’s strength, but not without vulnerability. It’s a full-fledged return to painting that stakes a claim for Hammond as a central protagonist in a Post-Minimalist discourse, a claim that is ruggedly feminist and heroically lesbian.

Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art continues at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (258 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut) through September 15. The exhibition is
curated by Amy Smith-Stewart.


Harmony Hammond’s Art Is Bold and Prickly as Ever, The New York Times

Posted 08/9/19


RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — With all the hullabaloo around the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, it’s easy to forget that, well into the 1970s and beyond, to be an out gay artist was to court mainstream-career suicide. Harmony Hammond, who began exhibiting and curating in the very early post-Stonewall years, was one of the people responsible for defying and reversing this repression.

In the 1970s, in New York City, she organized the first local exhibition devoted entirely to art by gay women, and called it what it was: “A Lesbian Show.” She co-founded the feminist Heresies Collective and coedited a lesbian-themed issue of its journal. In 2000, she published “Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History,” the first and still only comprehensive survey book on the subject. (It’s been out of print for years.) From the start, in her own sculpture and painting, she bucked the trend that equated political art with figurative work, and invented her own modes of queer abstraction.

She did pay a price for such focused boldness. Only now, at 75, is she having her first career retrospective, “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art.” And it’s not at a big-guns urban institution, but at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in leafy suburban Connecticut. Wherever, the show is taut, moving and beautiful, and well worth traveling to see.

As organized by Amy Smith-Stewart, senior curator at the Aldrich, the survey doesn’t follow a chronological path, though biography clearly shaped this art. Ms. Hammond grew up in a working-class town near Chicago. She studied painting in college, married a fellow artist, and for a while supported herself with minor art-related jobs.

But after the couple moved to New York City in 1969 — the Stonewall year — her trajectory became less conventional. Within a year, she had a daughter, separated from her husband, and began the process of coming out as a lesbian. Plunging headlong into the roiling downtown cultural scene, she joined a feminist consciousness-raising group, studied weaving and tai chi (she would later practice and teach the Japanese martial art of aikido), and, in 1972, became a founding member of the all-women A.I.R. Gallery, which is still going strong.

The earliest work at the Aldrich, a set of six fabric sculptures called “Presences,” reconstitutes the main element of her first A.I.R. solo. Each sculpture, suspended from the ceiling by a rope and lightly brushing the gallery floor, is roughly human size and composed of layered strips of dyed and painted cloth. The forms, of uncertain gender, look archaic, ceremonial, and communal in spirit. Significantly, most of the fabric strips were from recycled clothing donated by members of the women’s group Ms. Hammond was involved with.

The sculptures that immediately followed, called “Floorpieces,” were also made from cloth, in this case commercial knit scraps that Ms. Hammond scavenged from sweatshop dumpsters in SoHo. She braided the cloth in a traditional rag-rug technique, then painted the surfaces. The tondo-shaped pieces — five of the original seven are in the show — are a cross between paintings, sculptures and domestic accessories. As such, they cast all three categories into question, and erase hierarchical distinctions between fine art and “women’s work” craft. To emphasize their versatile identities, Ms. Hammond insisted they be displayed on the floor in an otherwise empty gallery, as they are, to striking effect, at the Aldrich.

The art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson, one of Ms. Hammond’s most astute critics, has suggested that the “Floorpieces” were the first works to consciously introduce a queer, and specifically lesbian identity, into Ms. Hammond’s work. The artist herself gives the nod in her extraordinary series of “Wrapped Sculptures” from later in the decade.

Once again, fabric is the chief material, but now tightly wrapped around wood armatures — ladders, stretcher bars, furniture parts — in thick, bulging, skin-stretching layers like muscles pumped to the point of explosion. The artist has said she modeled the work on aspects of the female body, exterior and interior, and she comes up with some tender tableaus: In one, a small, dark “ladder” leans, as if seeking support, against a larger, light-colored one. But the same technique can produce ominous things. A large, four-pronged wrapped sculpture called “Kong” protrudes from the wall like an immense grasping hand.

When these sculptures first appeared, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they looked like nothing else in the art world. They still look that way. So does much of what came after.

In 1984, Ms. Hammond moved to New Mexico, where she still lives, and her art reflected the changed environment. With expanded studio space, she explored larger formats. In place of dumpster-diving, she collected relics of abandoned farmhouses. A 1992 installation called “Inappropriate Longings” includes three abstract collage-paintings that incorporate fragments of old linoleum flooring. In front of them stands a coffin-shaped water trough filled with dead cottonwood leaves.

At a glance, the installation gives off a nostalgic Dust Bowl vibe, though a close look delivers a nasty contemporary surprise: razor-carved into one of the panels, and smeared with red paint, are the words “Goddamn dyke.” The artist made the piece in response to reports of a hate crime committed during Colorado’s 1992 passage of an amendment to the state constitution denying gays protection from discrimination. (In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment as unconstitutional.)

Ms. Hammond entered art as an abstract painter and continues to be one, though of an emphatically un-Modernist kind. She has written: “My work is NOT pure, isolated, authoritative, universal, self-referential, self-sufficient or removed from social function.” This declared impurity is obvious everywhere in the show, from drawings made using watercolor, ink, and menstrual blood to a series of painting-like works made of straw mixed with acrylic pigment. (Some of these pieces look like blocks of spun gold, others like clods of dry earth.)

What is consistent is an unrelenting stress on materiality and a non-binary approach to form: Everything is painting andsculpture. In certain recent paintings, strips of cut canvas, secured by tacks or pierced by grommets, crisscross the surface in sculptural relief. And although this work is nonfigurative and even technically imageless, it very clearly suggests bound or bandaged flesh. In short, her monochromatic abstraction is never fully abstract. It is always, in some way, about actual tension and pressure, physical, political, psychological.

Tons of abstract art has been churned out in the past five decades, yet not much new has happened. Galleries and museums are filled with walk-on-by works that, whatever their ingenuities, are basically just variations on old models, wall-filling exercises in easy, comfortable beauty. Ms. Hammond’s art has beauty too, but of a prickly, irritant kind: it’s burlap — sometimes sandpaper — as opposed to silk. No surprise that, in a market-driven art world resistant to what can’t be classified and resentful of work that refuses to ingratiate, the spotlight has been a long time coming her way. At the Aldrich, it shines.


Frank Stella Preview, Art in America

Posted 08/7/19


​Frank Stella, who began his career in the late 1950s, first became known for his precisely shaped black canvases, then for more vivid paintings and colorful sculptures made from welded aluminum and steel, carbon fiber, plastic, and found objects. Though Stella experiments with myriad geometric forms, the star has been a notable subject through out his career, from early paintings to recent sculptures. “Frank Stella’s Stars, A Survey,” features roughly twenty wall works and four outdoor sculptures demonstrating the artists’s recurrent use of the star and how, in certain cases, the motif has been obscured.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Conn., May 17 to October 11, 2020.


Connecticut Art Museums Work to Break Down Barriers, CT Post

Posted 08/7/19


Connecticut museums are trying to break free of seeming aloof and engage with their local communities, starting with free admission for those who receive food stamps.

Museums nationwide are trying to knock down barriers to cultural institutions, particularly art museums. Oft-cited barriers include admissions prices and public transportation. Others include exhibits that are not relevant to, or do not represent, the diverse people of color, non-native English speakers and LGBT people in the community.

To include those who cannot afford tickets, three art museums and five children’s museums in Connecticut participate in Museums for All, a cooperative initiative between the Association of Children’s Museums and the Institute of Museum and Library Services that lets visitors with EBT cards visit for free or at a reduced cost.

Three are in Fairfield County: The Bruce Museum in Greenwich, the Aldrich Museum Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield and Stepping Stones Children’s Museum in Norwalk. Patrons of the Bruce and the Aldrich who present an EBT card can admit up to four people for free.

“If you don’t have to worry about paying, it makes it more accessible,” says Diana Rafferty, the education coordinator for the Bruce Museum. “The last thing we want to do is make the culture that is available to everyone hidden behind a paywall.”
To improve the experiences of visitors who benefit from Museums for all, Rafferty has encouraged conversations among staff members about the myths and realities of poverty.

Most welfare recipients are white, contrary to enduring stereotypes, and education — while a great equalizer — saddles the very people trying to escape generational poverty with crippling debt, she says.

Rafferty herself received unemployment benefits for a while, and says every bit helped. Among Americans who work, a significant portion live paycheck to paycheck, she added.

“I don’t think people realize how close some people are to that, or how normal they are,” she says.

This is the first year the Aldrich has participated in a program specific to SNAP EBT benefits. While Ridgefield is regarded as an affluent town, not all families reflect that image, so the program helps the Aldrich connect with all its community members, says Namulen Bayarsaihan, the museum’s education director.
“I think that will open up a wide audience that we necessarily have not been considering intently or poignantly in the past,” Bayarsaihan says.

But the word of free admission for EBT cardholders has spread slowly. The Aldrich faces other obstacles, too, stemming from its location in a small Connecticut town without much public transportation, Bayarsaihan says.

The art museum is finding new ways Ridgefield residents, as well as those in the surrounding communities, including free bus transportation for area Title I schools that take field trips there.

More than money
Inclusion advcoates say museums in Connecticut are well-intentioned, but need to do more than lower prices to be accessible and representative of the state’s demographics.

Museums in the state, particularly Fairfield County, struggle because the state is small, affluent and somewhat conservative, says Angie Durrell, the founder of INTEMPO, a Stamford-based organization that works to make culture and music relevant, inclusive and accessible.
“People think we have no transportation, no money, but some people have those things and want to go to museums, but they’re not being invited,” Durrell says. “No one is going to their community centers or their emails to invite them.”

Luciana McClure, a New Haven-based artist and activist, agrees. The co-founder of Nasty Women Connecticut, and a Latinx (the gender-neutral term for Latino or Latina), she aims to remove elitism from the local art scene and empower everyone to experience and make art.
“Many museums are interested in being relevant and inclusive, but often they do not know what that means,” McClure says. “It’s more than just reduce prices for us to attend.”

Museum culture targets a primarily white audience, McClure says. Each department needs to consider exhibiting diverse people, and if need be, rearranging these collections to challenge how museums have displayed the works of other cultures.

The advocates also recommended diversifying staff and board members and going into the underrepresented communities to figure out why potential museum-goers stay away.

“We can’t change the past, but we can change the future by how we talk about things,” McClure says. “What we’re trying to bring more people into New Haven and Connecticut?”
For some, it may be that these spaces seem intimidating. Diversifying the artwork on display is one way museums try to attract people with different interests.

“For a really long time, museums have been seen as these bastions of culture — and they are — but to go along with that, there are these imposing buildings and intimidating pieces of art that are not known to people who didn’t grow up around art,” Rafferty says.

Rafferty grew up in a rural town and was was intimidated by museums. Today, she wants to remove this barrier for visitors.

“It’s about exploring all kinds of things, like low-brow humor, outside art (works by self-taught artists) or fine art,” she says. “Everyone should get the chance to experience all that.”

When people think about contemporary art, many imagine the non-representational painting hanging on the stark white wall of a museum. To fight against this trope, Bayarsaihan says the Aldrich keeps no permanent collection, and instead constantly rotates emerging and mid-career artists from an array of backgrounds.

While contemporary art is perceived as hard-to-understand, it is actually relevant to most observers because these works respond to ongoing conversations.

“You don’t need to know anything about contemporary art to experience it,” she says.
These conversations range from politics to the weather. An upcoming group exhibit at the Aldrich focuses on art that explores weather, including season changes, weather-gauging tools and the impact of weather on communities.

“Weather is so important and relevant to everyone,” she says. “If we can talk to a stranger about weather, we can come to an art show and have a meaningful experience.”

“Weather is so important and relevant to everyone,” she says. “If we can talk to a stranger about weather, we can come to an art show and have a meaningful experience.”


Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art, Art New England

Posted 08/7/19


Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art is the first museum survey of work by the radical artist, activist and feminist. Curated by Amy Smith­ Stewart, the exhibition focuses on Hammond’s ability to transform and manipulate materials­ fromscrapsoffabricsalvaged fromdumpsters in Manhattan to the corrugated roofing tins she discovered in Tucson’s vacant lots. A vast selection of catalogues, books and other publications by Hammond, author of Lesbian Art in America (2000) andco-founder of the journal, HE RES IE S: A Feminist Publication of Art & Politics (1976), cements her foothold as an important intellectual and concludes this impressive, long-overdue show.

Covering nearly 50 years of her career from 1971 to 2018, the exhibition highlights some of Hammond’ s well known works such as her ” wrapped sculptures,“made from wooden armatures onto which Hammond layered painted fabrics. Kong (1981), a giant looming form, greets visitors near to the museum’s entrance while Hug (1978) imparts a maternal aura with its pair of ladder- like forms-onerose gold, the other dark forest green-resting gently on each other. Five of the original six Floorpieces, first shown in 1974 at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York, were installed by the artist in a bright room on the museum’s first floor. These colorfulbraided rugs, pieced together from found fabrics that Hammond called “ rags,” counterbalance the austerity of minimalist Carl Andre’s con­temporaneous floor sculptures. Hammond’s Floorpieces are also viewable from a balcony upstairs where her Presences are housed. Eight figurative silhouettes composed of tattered and painted textiles donated to the artist by her friends hang from the ceiling, giving the gallery a haunted feeling.

Several of Hammond’s most recent works are gathered in the penultimate room, which is dominated by large-scale paintings. Hammond’smoveto theSouthwest in the mid-‘80s marked a shift in her materials, andshe began sourcing detritus from abandoned houses, burlap and used tatami mats given to her by her Aikido master. With its off-white grommeted straps that pierce and straddle the"near­ monochrome” composition, Blanco (2012-13) has violent and sexual undertones, exuding Hammond’s prowess to embody materials with her punchy, political agenda.


Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum Names Amy Smith-Stewart Senior Curator, Artforum

Posted 08/7/19


The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, has promoted Amy Smith-Stewart to senior curator. Since Smith-Stewart joined the institution as a curator in September 2013, she has worked on twenty-nine exhibitions and projects, including the first solo museum show of work by artist Eva LeWitt, which will open in October.

Prior to joining the Aldrich, Smith-Stewart founded an eponymous gallery, which operated out of a location on New York’s Lower East Side for two years and is now a roving curatorial project. She also held curatorial roles for the now-defunct Mary Boone Gallery, the Peter Norton Collection, and MoMA PS1, and taught at the School of the Visual Arts and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

“During her tenure at the Aldrich, Amy has organized incredible exhibitions that have brought deserving artists and bodies of work the attention they deserve—an undertaking at the heart of the museum’s mission,” said executive director Cybele Maylone. “I’m particularly delighted by the work she has done to bring women artists to the Aldrich, as evidenced by the three stellar shows she organized that are currently on view by Harmony Hammond, N. Dash, and Sara Cwynar.”


Sara Cwynar’s Photoshop Proletariat, The Nation

Posted 08/7/19


Sara Cwynar’s video Cover Girl (2018), the artist’s meditation on femininity and the history of cosmetics, includes scenes shot in the depths of an unnamed makeup factory. In one scene, the camera pans over sterile jars filled with flesh-tone liquids to be eventually sold as foundation. In another, thin sheets of oily rose-colored wax—pink lipstick in progress—cascade down a slide looking like slices of finely shaved deli meat, delectable and disgusting.

There is something jarring about seeing the cold realities of the beauty industry—a sector that is growing rapidly among millennials, shilling self-care, individuality, and most important, the capacity to be Instagram ready. And after one views Cover Girl in Cwynar’s “Gilded Age” at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Connecticut—the artist’s first East Coast solo museum show—it’s hard to resist seeking out more footage from inside cosmetics factories. My favorite, a YouTube video by L’Oréal on its lipstick-making process, stands out for embracing the contradiction between the product’s associations and its mode of manufacturing, stressing that “as glamorous as it is, lipstick is still a high- technology product.” As the video elaborates, lip color is mixed according to tested, standardized procedures. To achieve each shade, multiple pigments are needed, and each tube contains about 20 ingredients.

Images, especially those of women, are just as manufactured—comprising ingredients that cohere into one appealing or comprehensible vision. And many of Cwynar’s videos and photographs are designed, like Cover Girl, to offer something like a behind-the-scenes look into the making of feminine ideals. Her work forces viewers to question why certain tropes of femininity appear beautiful or at least normalized. Why does a synthetically produced red lip, for example, read as sultry rather than machinic? And when and why do we embrace artifice in women? How much makeup is too much? At what point does self- enhancement slip from tasteful to garish?

Cwynar’s work is also interested more broadly in identifying the palettes, cinematographic moods, and media formats we are subconsciously drawn to. For example, her best-known film, Rose
Gold (2017)—shown in a 2017 exhibition at her New York gallery, Foxy Production—highlights our attraction to soft colors and faded analog film. (Soft Film is the title of a 2016 video showing the artist arranging her vintage eBay purchases by look, date, and function.) Shot on 16 millimeter, Rose Gold centers on color trends and takes its name from the popular, since-discontinued iPhone color option. Through a series of montages and voiceovers, Cwynar reveals how our reception of different hues changes over time by comparing our appreciation of the titular iridescent pink to our revulsion for older, harsher metallics like harvest gold, a mustardy shade that was a staple of 1970s fridges and shag carpets.

Cover Girl picks up on the themes of Rose Gold, demystifying beauty as something in flux—subject to the rules of advertising and manufacturing rather than instinct or nature—and continues Cwynar’s exploration of 16 millimeter’s subduing effects. As she observed at the opening of “Gilded Age,” many of the hottest brands, like Glossier, a naturalish makeup line, and Acne Studios, the Swedish fashion house, trade in dusty colors. A certain form of nostalgia is trending, hungry for the sun-

washed tints and blurry imprecision of older media, and Cwynar capitalizes on this fact in her filmmaking. Despite Cover Girl’s unsavory factory scenes, its retro format tinges it with an overall loveliness. Wrapped in the warm embrace of analog, even its sequences of sterile machinery acquire an undeniable gauzy charm, appearing slower and less sharply defined than if they were captured digitally.

Cwynar was born in 1985 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and studied and worked in graphic design—she is a former New York Times Magazine staffer—before turning to the fine arts and pursuing an MFA in photography at Yale. Her background in the world of commercial and editorial design has made her particularly well suited to engage questions about how we package and create beauty trends and given her the skills to understand how professionally made images of women and their products function.

How images and texts are placed, colored, and arranged establishes the parameters within which we all receive and assess visual media and their subjects, yet these mechanics often go unnoticed by the untrained eye or are unremarkable to consumers less interested in advertisement’s construction than its emotional impact. Thanks to her training, however, Cwynar is capable of seeing through myriad design conventions and teases apart how graphics induce desire or disgust in their viewers. Her practice owes a debt to conceptual and appropriation work done in the 1970s and ’80s by artists like Sherrie Levine and Sarah Charlesworth, both credited in “Gilded Age,” but Cwynar takes their insights further and applies them to Web design in addition to print.

For instance, 141 Pictures of Sophie, 1, 2, and 3 (2019)—displayed in the room next to Cover Girl— unpacks the rules that structure online fashion photo shoots. A petite redhead, attractive in a bland way, is photographed three times in Cwynar’s studio against a backdrop printed with a square grid pattern: in the first image, facing directly forward; in the next, angled at a slight leftward tilt; and in the third, turned away from the beholder. The subject, Sophie, is a popular Web model, and the three-part configuration mirrors the way models are frequently shot for online clothing sales in a three-point turn that displays the front, side, and back of a garment. Cwynar has made this fact visible by taping and attaching over the large-scale studio portraits layers of smaller pictures of Sophie standing in identical positions printed from Web pages (mainly Ssense, a high-end fashion, editorial, and e-commerce platform) and cut out. Cwynar then rephotographed the ensemble, giving the final composition an air of both professionalism and amateurism: The pieces of conspicuous tape, the imperfect, slightly jagged scissor cuts, and the lovingly

handmade quality of the arrangement—as you might see on a mood board or locker door—feel at odds with the flat glossiness of its format.

Cwynar copies e-commerce photography but does so imperfectly and with an intentional degree of error and eccentricity that claims it as her own. The photographs force us to confront ostensibly ordinary images, highlighting the disjuncture between the Sophie depicted in the studio and her sleeker digital twin, who has benefited from some expert airbrushing and color correction. An homage to the Photoshop proletariat, the piece hints at the labor that goes into making Ssense Sophie, who has far dewier skin and much brighter crimson hair than the real, nondigitized Sophie. The juxtaposition shows how old techniques of image doctoring persist online in newer and subtler forms and offers a sharp take on the internet as a medium that innovates but does not entirely invent. Cwynar’s skill in illuminating both the electrifying newness and continuities and regressions of Web culture is praiseworthy and makes her one of the most captivating photographers of the millennial generation.

If 141 Pictures of Sophie demonstrates how the Internet gives novel form to old politics, in the ways it objectifies women and touches up reality, then its neighboring piece 432 Nefertitis(2015) illustrates how Web browsers function as something like time machines, operating as portals through which we can explore images, objects, and people of millennia past. Another collage, 432 Nefertitis assembles hundreds of pictures of Nefertiti’s famous circa 1340 BCE bust, with high cheekbones and kohl-lined eyes, in a shape that resembles open browser windows on a computer screen. Sophie’s and Nefertiti’s idealized forms—a twentysomething model and one of the beauty industry’s most ancient references— circulate in the same temporal space of the Internet, ready for us to view, download, print, and share. A Rococo Base (2018) is similarly anachronistic in its pairings: Resembling a visual-culture junk drawer, its surface displays feminine frills from across the ages—eyeshadow palettes in Barbie hues, pastel Post-it notes, photographs of contemporary runway looks, and part of a reproduction of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s 1778 painting of Marie Antoinette. Cropped from the larger painting and removed from its 18th- century background, the queen’s pose reads more coquettish cover girl than stoic royalty. The face that launched a thousand products.

In all her bouffant-haired, pale-powder-faced splendor, Marie Antoinette has gone too far by today’s standards. She is overdone kitsch and, to many, unsightly. Though her look may be passé, it is hard to claim that her quest for picture-perfect beauty is similarly outdated. Women have long been tasked with the impossible mission to be both beautiful and natural. Society has demanded that women be pleasing to the eye, then castigated them for falsity and capriciousness when, to do so, they turned, as did Marie Antoinette, to the aid of rouges and paints. As Cwynar’s work shows, the times may change, but societal expectations of women as standard bearers of so-called tasteful beauty—one that enhances inside the bounds of plausibility—have remained, in many ways, remarkably the same. The creamy pinks and porcelain whites of the rococo may be unsubtle to modern eyes, but are they so unlike the translucent shimmers of Glossier? Aren’t they ultimately all just shades of the same thing?


Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art, The Brooklyn Rail

Posted 08/7/19


In this long-overdue career survey, Harmony Hammond proves, if there were ever any doubt, that abstract art can be politically charged and bursting with content. A pioneering feminist artist, curator, writer, gallery co-founder, activist, and scholar of contemporary lesbian art, Hammond, who is still busy in the studio, at 75, was instrumental in carving out a place for women in the male-dominated contemporary art world of early 1970s New York and beyond.

Curated by the Aldrich’s Amy Smith-Stewart, Material Witness, Five Decades of Art includes more than 50 works, dating from the early 1970s to 2018, culled from public and private collections as well as theartist’s own holdings in Galisteo, New Mexico, where she’s lived since 1989. It’s Hammond’s first majormuseum survey, with numerous rarely exhibited gems. Over the course of 50 years, we see Hammond creatively layering meaning in her painting-based abstraction through materials and processes, incorporating everything from textiles and rubber latex to vernacular architectural debris and her own blood. What emerges is a striking visual component to a pathbreaking feminist mission that is still going strong.

Raised in a planned postwar community on the edge of Chicago where conformity ruled, Hammond was lucky enough as a teenager to escape regularly into the halls of the Art Institute of Chicago. She studied art in college for a few years before marrying Stephen Clover, a fellow artist. In 1969, the couple moved from Minnesota to New York City and soon separated. (He was gay but not out.) Hammond soon discovered she was pregnant and went on to raise her daughter, Tanya, on her own, making ends meet while making her art and connecting with like-minded women artists. In 1972, with 19 others, she co- founded A.I.R. (Artists in Residence), a cooperative woman-run gallery that became (and continues to be) an important springboard for women artists. Hammond then went on to co-found the Heresies Collective (with artists Joyce Kozloff, Pat Steir, and critic Lucy Lippard, among others), which produced the influential quarterly Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics from 1977 through 1993. And in 2000 she published the award-winning Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (Rizzoli), the first survey of its kind.

For Hammond, equality was (and still is) largely about “claiming space” in a patriarchal system. We seeher doing that across mediums and dimensions with a refreshing disregard for art historical conventions.Her works can operate between two and three dimensions, don’t always have a back and a front, or aninside and outside. Content spills over the edges of her surfaces, and painting comes off the canvas and off the walls. She uses a brush, but also punctures, stitches, scrapes, binds, ties, and frays her materials. No surface is sacred.

The show offers a rare occasion to see seven of Hammond’s life-size Presences (1971–72) assembled together. Dense accumulations of paint-drenched fabric scraps, sewn together onto a hanger and strung from the ceiling, they take over a gallery space with a commanding, almost regal invincibility. Primal yet eloquent, scrappy but exquisitely constructed, they suggest strength in numbers while invoking the gritty urgency of the creative community of downtown New York in the 1970s. We are in their space, not viceversa, and they might seem intimidating if they weren’t installed at angles, as if in conversation with each one another (and with us). They claim space, yes, but they also invite others into it.

Hammond’s way has always been less about intimidation than infiltration. In her series of rarely
exhibited Floorpieces (1973)—one of the stunners of the show—five circular textiles with concentric rings of color seem to bubble up from underground like hot springs, stealthily penetrating the space of the museum. Made from braided, coiled rags, which Hammond then partially painted, they read more like floor paintings than sculptures. They clearly share a lineage with the domestic handicraft of the rag rug,but here the notion of “women’s work” seems more about the labor of love of making art and getting itseen. Hammond also seems to be riffing on Carl Andre’s Minimalist floor sculptures from the late 1960s, but the artist’s hand is integral to the work rather than stripped away. She has referred to braiding as a “lesbian” activity, with like strands coming together to become stronger, and she recalls sitting in the center of her Floorpieces while making them, working her way out as the spiral grows—a process she likens to the circular movements of aikido and tai chi, martial arts that she practiced for decades.

Hammond has largely avoided representing the body, pictorially, and there is no sign of the male gazehere, as in much other feminist work of the 1970s and ’80s. But the body is everywhere. She has painted on discarded canvas tatami mats from her martial arts dojos, “charged with body contact,” as she’sdescribed, while her Wrapped Sculptures (1977–84), merging a corporeality with upholstery, consist of an armature, or skeleton, wrapped with cloth (flesh), and then covered with coating of paint or rubber latex,or “skin,” a term she’s used to describe paint.

That metaphor might suggest vulnerability in some hands. But for Hammond, the body is resilient and skin, or paint, a protective barrier, even when punctured, scraped, or bound, as suggested in her ongoingseries of “Near Monochromes,” which she’s been working on since the early 2000s. Here, she allows allkinds of content to infiltrate a tradition—the Modernist monochrome—that traditionally forbade it. Tiny bits of color seep up through fissures and sutures, for instance, while laces and straps collaged onto the surface and embedded under the paint disrupt the would-be pristine surface with a blatant suggestion of bandaging and binding.

At times these works bring to mind Alberto Burri’s scarred and burned abstractions from the 1960s. But for Hammond, there is always more of a sense of repairing, restoring, and connecting. As she told anaudience shortly after the exhibition opened: “A bandage always implies the wound. A bandaged gridimplies a disruption of utopian egalitarian order—but also the possibility of holding together, of healing.” That’s the Harmony Hammond that is still articulating a quietly reassuring fierceness through herabstraction, 50 years after she first found her voice.


The Artist Hijacking Photographic Clichés to Explore Gender Stereotypes, Feature Shoot

Posted 08/7/19


Like any language, photography has given birth to a series of clichés that are reductive at best. At their worst, they become a vehicle for disinformation and stereotype, fueling pathologies by reinforcing the most dangerous aspects of confirmation bias. As Jenny Holzer noted, “Clichés endure” — and may very well exist until we root them out and expose them for the perilous, short-sighted, and sloppy thinking that they are.

Canadian artist Sara Cwynar takes aim at popular photographic clichés in her new exhibition, Gilded Age, on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, through November 10, 2019. Featuring a selection of the artist’s color photographs made over the past five years, the exhibition also includes Kitsch Encyclopedia (2014) her first artist book; Cover Girl (2018), a 16mm film on video with sound; and 72 Pictures of Modern Paintings (2016), a site-specific wallpaper.

Whatever medium Cwynar selects, she uses the form to explore and expose the ways in which images are constructed and recycled in an endless digital loop. Cwynar sets her sights on the preponderance of visual clichés that crowd our space, recognizing the ways in which they can be used as dog whistles to signify ulterior agendas.

For Cwynar, the subject of misogyny takes center stage as she delves deep into the past to examine the ways in which dated iconography is continuously revived. Whether looking at portraits or product shots, Cwynar’s work reveals a cultural penchant for played out archetypes that reinforce dated notions of gender and sexuality as a means to cultivate insecurity and desire and thus expand market share.

While her starting point is drawn from pre-digital sources as diverse as the New York Public Library, a local dollar store, a curbside dumpster, and eBay, Cwynar uses technology to examine the ways in which visual language plays into our fantasies while simultaneously spawning nightmares. The modern-day obsession with lifestyle, as evidenced by everyone from social media influencers to advertisers underscores a long-standing capitalist belief that you can buy happiness — when they understand that the pleasure is as fleeting as the printing of your receipt, and once hooked you can be sold time and again, like an addict on the street.

Yet, for all of the truth that is exposed, the fact is there’s nothing quite so pleasurable as the high. Cwynar’s work does not veer away from beauty, but rather uses it like bait on a hook, captivating us with the fact that what we really, really want, is to stand still and just look.


Beyond Boston: 6 Summer Exhibits Around New England, WBUR

Posted 08/7/19


Harmony Hammond, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut, Through Sept. 15

Harmony Hammond is an artist, feminist and lesbian scholar, curator and author who has walked her own path in art, uniting minimalism and post-minimalism while exploring marginalized craft traditions. She combines scavenged textiles, fabric, burlap, rope, straw and other found materials with traditional oil and acrylic paint, graphite and watercolor. Now, a career’s worth of her work is on view in “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art.” Spanning 1971 to 2018, the exhibition includes not only her earliest painted sculptures but her mixed-media and monumental “installational” paintings of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as her encrusted “near monochromes.” The exhibit also includes works on paper and ephemera, as well as some of her writing. Her punctured, strapped and patched paintings exude a socially-aware, muscular energy.


Harmony Hammond, The Modern Art Notes Podcast

Posted 08/7/19


Hammond is featured in three important exhibitions around the United States. The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn. is showing “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art,” a survey of Hammond’s career. The exhibition, which was curated by Amy Smith-Stewart, will be on view through September 5. The excellent catalogue, the first hardcover monograph on Hammond’s career, was published by the Aldrich and Gregory R. Miller. Amazon offers it for $45.

Hammond is also included in two major summer historical surveys. “Art after Stonewall, 1969-89” is at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University and at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. It closes at the Grey on July 20; at the Leslie-Lohman on July 21. “Art after Stonewall” surveys the impact the LGBTQ movement had on visual art and culture in the two decades after the Stonewall Rebellion. It was curated curated by Jonathan Weinberg, Tyler Cann and Drew Sawyer for the Columbus Museum of Art, which organized the exhibition. It next travels to the Frost Art Museum in Miami before arriving in Columbus. “Queer Abstraction” is on view at the Des Moines Art Center through September 8. The exhibition, which was curated by Jared Ledesma, examines how LGBTQ artists have used abstraction to address sexuality and gender. It will travel to the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kan. An exhibition catalogue is forthcoming.