Press

Meredith Mendelsohn, “And the Blue Ribbon Goes to…Anissa Mack,” The New York Times, October 20, 2017

Posted 10/25/17

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — The state fair, that familiar ritual of the late summer and early fall, looms large in the catalog of what makes America American: agrarian industriousness meeting the tame vices of the midway.

For Rodgers and Hammerstein, who wrote the songbook of old-fashioned American values (with a wink), it’s a place, as portrayed in their 1945 musical ‘‘State Fair,’’ where housewives derive their self-worth from prizewinning mincemeat, and restless young farm folk seek romance with worldly strangers. Writing in National Geographic, Garrison Keillor, the keen-eyed observer of heartland behavior, praises the state fair for giving us the permission to forget our buttoned-up lives for a day and “plunge into the pool of self-indulgence.”

For the Brooklyn-based, Connecticut-raised artist Anissa Mack, state fair rituals are not just a seasonal recurrence, but the engine driving a continuing body of work. Around two dozen of her newest collagelike objects and sculptures inspired by a lifetime of fair-going are on view in “Junk Kaleidoscope,” a solo show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum here, through April 22.

“Some families have Easter or Christmas. We had the state fair,” Ms. Mack recalled recently, reflecting on a childhood spent around the fairgrounds in Durham, Conn. “My grandmother was a pickle judge, my aunts always entered jams and jellies, my mom would make a quilt or needlepoint or enter vegetables or flowers, and my dad always did something — photography or horticulture, usually, sometimes baking.”

Ms. Mack, 47, who now lives and works out of a historical rowhouse in Bushwick, had her own role to play in the family holiday — aside from taking a gamble at carnival games and sampling deep fried you-name-its: Every year she’d compete in the Durham Fair’s craft competition.

“I know every artist says this, but I was always making stuff as a kid,” she said. “Plus, you could win a few bucks of prize money and you’d get into the fair for free.” The ritual would begin each August with daily trips to the mailbox to check for the Durham Fair’s entry booklet, which contained the long list of craft categories that would guide Ms. Mack’s plan of attack. (Soap carving and pumpkin decoration were among her favorites.)

That annual tradition has evolved through many twists and turns into “Junk Kaleidoscope,” a phrase that Amy Smith-Stewart, the Aldrich’s curator, likes to think of as “a ruptured view of the world through everyday cultural artifacts,” she said recently while installing the show.

Hung in frames, displayed on shelves, or arranged in domestic-scaled installations, Ms. Mack’s new work quietly exudes the motley variety of a craft show crossed with a fair exhibition hall in its mix of stained glass, gilding, silk flowers, neon lights and lots of denim. There are references to early sideshow banners, commemorative wreaths, needlepoint samplers, teen longing, and American heartthrobs.

“I’m interested in my body of work looking like the things that came out of the fair, not in their craftiness, but in their diversity,” said Ms. Mack, who cites as inspirations Ree Morton (1936-1977), Rosemarie Trockel and Robert Gober, artists known for their idiosyncratic use of various materials.

She returns to the Durham Fair almost every year and took road trips to visit state fairs through the Southeast and the northern Midwest. “Fairs are great sources for images,” she said, while assuring me that she is not obsessed. What she does obsess over, she explained, is “their collections of things, the categorization, their repetitive nature.” Fittingly, a large poster-size list hangs at the entrance to the main gallery at the Aldrich, enumerating 73 categories.

The evolution of the kind of official list that Ms. Mack would eagerly pore over as a kid, the show at the Aldrich mixes existing competition categories, like “#14 Wood, three-dimensional construction” with more ambiguous entries, like “#38 My heart wants more” and “#55 After the fact.”

The list is also a link to the exhibition’s pivotal origins, Ms. Mack’s epic project, “The Fair (staged in 1996 and 2006). Fresh out of the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where she earned her M.F.A. in sculpture, Ms. Mack decided to enter all 73 craft categories in the Durham Fair. It was an act of near-manic D.I.Y. industriousness, done in the name of art rather than heartlandish moral rectitude. She taught herself leather tooling, screen-printing and chair caning, and won dozens of ribbons.

“Art gave me this framework to put around the fair, this permission to allow myself to allocate an insane amount of time to making crafts — all summer, every day, two crafts a day, while working a full-time temp job,” she recalled. Real Art Ways, a nonprofit art space in Hartford, showed the items — adorned with their ribbons. The following year, Postmasters Gallery in New York showed the project.

In 2006, Ms. Mack was at it again, entering all 69 craft categories of the Durham Fair. “That second time it was more about using repetition, remaking, and memorialization to think about how I was processing these familiar images and experiences,” she said. Ten years later, she was planning “Junk Kaleidoscope,” fleshing out her interest in commemoration. “All the work in the show came from either a memory I have or an image I saw, maybe a very specific object I walked by,” she explained. “But they’re not exact reproductions, they’re combinations of a few things.”

There are several wreath motifs in the show, including “Conn Con,” from 2017, a large ring of straw festooned with ornamental corn. It’s the kind of regional homage that one might find at the fair, but also an allusion to the false impression of household bliss that the mastery of the “domestic arts” might imply. “How you decorate your house, your curb appeal — it was all very important where I grew up,” said Ms. Mack, who now has work in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Seattle Art Museum, among others.

Ms. Smith-Stewart, who came across the artist’s work in a group show at MoMA PS1 in 2002, while working as an assistant curator, said: “Anissa is interested in the storytelling power of objects, and many of the works have a narrative that can be pieced together differently depending on the audience.”

Ms. Mack’s list is a gathering of ideas that have been percolating in her psyche over the years. “#45 Amy, Amy, anyone,” for instance, refers to the artist’s childhood fascination with Amy Carter. “I was so curious about her,” said Ms. Mack, who still has the straight red hair, sprinkling of freckles and gently angular features she shared back then with America’s First Kid. “She was my ageish, but a little older. And she sort of looked like me.”

Ms. Mack hasn’t tackled the subject of Amy Carter quite yet, but that doesn’t matter. The list, for her, is a live document for future work. It can be a catalyst (or excuse) to make something new, or a way of understanding something she’s already made.

Everything in the show refers to something on the list, she explained, but some might match three, “and some categories, like Americana, might cover everything.” “Everyone’s favorite angel, 2017,” for instance, a pencil sketch of Farrah Fawcett drawn on a canvas that the artist has molded to look like white denim, could be#20 Best of the best,”#33 I never thought she’d take his last name,” “ or “#60 Locations, actors, obstacles.”

Wreath,” from 2017, is a good example of how Ms. Mack might bundle together different impressions into a cohesive work. It revolves around a story she read in the paper last year about a terminally ill 14-year-old British girl whose last wish was to be cryogenically frozen. The artist printed the condensed tale, word by word, on the surface of around 300 resin-cast rings (tiny wreaths, if you will), and then arranged them among dozens of inexpensive vintage rings in a rectangular grid of foam slots, the kind of display she frequently sees at fairs and flea markets.

The work shows how nuanced Ms. Mack’s state fair resonances can be. “The girl’s story reminded me of the midway,” she said. “It’s this place of incredible hope, where you might win this huge stuffed thing, but you also kind of know you’re going to lose.”

A white neon sign casting cold light in a dark side gallery transports viewers to the midway’s fleeting alley of rickety rides and ringtoss stands. It reads “FACTS FAKES FREAKS.” Ms. Mack didn’t have political intentions when she made the sign last year — the wording came from an old sideshow banner she had seen. But the relevance today doesn’t escape her.

“The emotions generated in the space of the midway are things that really play out in other parts of American culture,” she said. “The pride of winning something for someone else, the showing off, the hucksterism.” It’s all right there.

A version of this article appears in print on October 22, 2017, on Page AR14 of the New York edition with the headline: And the Blue Ribbon Goes to ….

Photo: Anissa Mack at her studio in Brooklyn. The objects and sculptures in her new show, “Junk Kaleidoscope,” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn., have been inspired by a lifetime of fair-going. CreditNathan Bajar for The New York Times

Press

Spotlight On Arts & Culture May 13, 2019 | Cybele Maylone, WPKN

Posted 05/23/19

Hosted by David Green of The Cultural Alliance Of Fairfield County.

In this interview meet the new, dynamic young leader of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Executive Director Cybele Maylone. Find out her background, discover some of her core beliefs and where The Aldrich might be heading under her new leadership.

Press

Harmony Hammond, Exhibition Review, Art in America

Posted 04/22/19

​Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art exhibition review by Faye Hirsch in Art in America. View PDF of full article below.

Press

Drawing from Memory: A Former Prisoner Creates Art from Pain and Loss, The Marshall Project

Posted 04/22/19

MAURICE CHAMMAH

The incarcerated artist Vincent Nardone stopped painting when he realized he might be annoying his cellmate. “I ended up slinging paint all over him and the room,” he said.

He picked up a ballpoint pen. “I thought, there must be a way to transform this pen into a paintbrush.” Instead of lines, he made dots. “As I got older, my hands got affected by arthritis, and it was hard to make the lines, so the dots were more convenient.”

The results are stunning. Nardone is uniquely gifted at conveying the warmth that surrounds memories when they are recalled from the grimness of prison, while also capturing the hallucinatory, time-stopping atmosphere of prison itself.

Some of Nardone’s drawings are on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, in an exhibit organized by Jeffrey Greene, an artist and curator who has been teaching art in prisons for decades through a non-profit called Community Partners in Action.

When the two met in 1999, Nardone had already served two decades for his role in a murder that a friend committed in Maryland. “While the person created an alibi for themselves in Las Vegas, I got rid of the body,” Nardone told me. He was 25 and was transferred to Connecticut under an interstate compact.

Before meeting Greene, Nardone, now 67, was in an artistic rut, producing an endless series of nautical scenes — especially clipper ships. Greene assigned him to draw an early memory, and Nardone remembered a drive he made with his parents to New York City. “He recalled how excited he was,” Greene said, “because that is where King Kong lived.”

The image shows his arm reaching out a window, his hand holding a toy plane, with the Manhattan Bridge in the background.

After that, “tons of pictures came flooding into my mind,” Nardone said. They were all from his youth in the 1950s—hyper-real, nostalgic Americana, full of soda shops and drive-in movies and cars with chrome bumpers.

But over time, his work began to address life in prison, and it grew more surreal, more symbolic, more emotional.

In “Saints, Sinners & Lost Beginners,” from 2014, hundreds of open-mouthed figures crowd towards a wall with a slot machine. “It was sort of about the appeal system,” Nardone said. “Everyone was turning a blind eye, even God. The dice are snake eyes.” In “Silence…Repent,” from 2005, prisoners appear to live in repetitious anonymity, in rings that orbit the earth. In “Last One Done in a Cell,” from 2016, a hand reaches up towards a ladder, surrounded by cell bars, as pocket watches fall from the sky: “Every watch has a time that represents when I lost someone while I was in prison. I went in with a flesh and blood family, and I came out to tombstones.”

Nardone was released in 2016, when he won an appeal; his jury had been given improper instructions. Now, he works as a fishmonger. “These pieces were my bubble, and they’re why I’m not bitter,” Nardone said. “I’m just grateful to be here. I’ll never get my life back, but I’m not trying anymore,” he said. “They ask when I’m gonna retire. I say, ‘Five minutes before they close the lid!’”

Press

Studio Visit: Harmony Hammond, THE Magazine

Posted 04/9/19

Harmony Hammond is lying on the floor beneath one of her paintings, craning her neck within inches of the canvas. “I’m doing edges,” she tells me. I first heard of Hammond when I came across the catalogue for Out West, a 1999 show she curated at Plan B Evolving Arts in Santa Fe that brought together 41 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and two-spirit artists from the Southwest.

I was living in Texas at the time, but soon enough I had moved to Santa Fe and was working for Hammond as an ersatz archivist, cataloguing and tracking her works in a database from the office connected to her massive Galisteo studio. I did my best not to interrupt her while she was in the studio, wincing as I heard the bangs, booms, and scrapings from the next room—sounds of her highly physical painting process.

It was apparent to me immediately, and became even more so over the time I worked for her, that Hammond’s life and work are utterly continuous with one another. For several months, her series Presences, over six-foot high sculptures made of acrylic, dye, cloth, rope, metal, and wood, hung in her living room, some beneath sheets. She called them “the girls.” They were “hanging out,” and needed space to resume their full embodiments. Originally from Hometown, Illinois, a land of “duplexes, nothingness, and bland sameness,” in high school Hammond took the El to the Saturday School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the bowels of the museum, classes full of “beatniks, nude models, and rotten still lifes—I loved it. Very different than Hometown.” She studied dress design and fashion illustration, and after class could walk the museum for free and look at the collections. This was her first real encounter with the art world, and the beginning of a lifelong artistic practice that today encompasses her home, studio, and small orchard in Galisteo.

Clayton Porter and I visited Hammond in her studio on the eve of a major survey show of her work at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Material Witness, Five Decades of Art, which is on view from March 3 to September 15, 2019, in Ridgefield, CT. A solo exhibition of her work at White Cube in London opens September 5th. This year her work will also be included at a number of queer-themed exhibitions, which mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Hammond moved to New York just after Stonewall, where she co-founded two foundational second-wave feminist institutions: A.I.R. Gallery, the first women’s cooperative gallery in New York, and Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art and Politics. An activist, curator, and teacher, Hammond went on to write Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (2000), and is known for her use of materials that mingle content with abstraction.

Jenn Shapland: How do you choose your materials?

Harmony Hammond: I think materials and how they’re used, how they’re manipulated, is one way of bringing content into abstract work. I don’t have an idea and then go seek the materials. I respond to a material for its formal properties, for what the material is like physically, and then I begin to work with it, manipulate it to see what I can do with it. As I work with the material, I begin to think about what I’m getting. But in the beginning, I try to just be open. As I’m working with the materials, I begin to think about what’s going on here, and how does the history of that material—be it traditional or not—and what I’m doing with it, how does it suggest meaning in the artwork.

In these paintings from the 1990s, latex rubber calls up skin and body. It would be pretty hard to use this material without body associations. They were done at the time when the AIDS epidemic was devastating the New York art world. In this painting, Codes of Meaning, the body reference is further emphasized, because I’m bringing the hair of two people together in the latex which suggests body fluids: it’s both sensuous and dangerous, very charged. This is blonde hair; this is dark hair. For this painting called Endangered, I used a zebra skin that a friend gave me. I just could not put it on my floor, so I placed it, a real animal skin, in a field of latex rubber suggesting or simulating human skin.

Can I backtrack for one second and ask whose hair is in this piece?

I don’t remember.

Someone you knew?

Probably, yes. I used hair on and off for years, and when I first did it in the ’70s I got some hair from a hair salon—that was not my thing. I usually use hair of people I know; I ask for their hair. Or I use my own hair, or my daughter’s hair.

And where does the metal piece come from in this work, [Untitled, 1991]?

Oh, who knows? It’s from 1991. These latex pieces with 3-dimensional elements came out of the earlier Farm Ghosts series where I scavenged old rusty corrugated roofing tin and metal gutters from abandoned farms between here and Tucson, where I was teaching. I think of gutters as circulatory systems: they’re supposed to be moving life fluids like water, but in my paintings there are no life fluids. There may be a little dribble of flesh or blood, but no water. Usually I use materials as I find them. I don’t alter them much. I found the gutter this way, bent, pieced, and repaired. Somebody mended it. Also, I like ladders; I like tools, they all have histories; I like gutters; I like water troughs, things that have a purpose.

Useful things.

But people have also altered them. Or personalized them. Going back to materials, especially found, repurposed, or recycled materials, they always bring their history, their stories, their narratives into the work with them. And in this case, one could even say they bring in other bodies, other peoples. We don’t know who, but somebody repaired this gutter. Occasionally, I use natural materials. Hopefully, by juxtaposing materials such as hair, straw, metal, or fabric with materials such as latex rubber or paint, I initiate new feelings, thoughts, or conversations. That’s why I recycle materials. To bring content into the work.

Talk about New Mexico and how living here has changed your work.

Well, I’ve always worked with found materials. When I lived in New York, my work was made out of the rags that women friends gave me—thereby literally putting my life in my work—or fabric I found on the streets. My daughter and I would pick rags. We would go to the garment district and collect the end cuts of bolts of knit fabrics that were discarded in dumpsters or left at the curb in big plastic bags. Here, it’s different. There’s not much thrown out in Santa Fe. But I do find different things in different places, both urban and rural. And these things reflect place. Not landscape but place, which I define as a peopled space. It either is peopled now or it was peopled in the past, but now there’s no one there, like on those abandoned family farms—where is everybody? What happened to them? So it is the materials from the farmsteads, fabric from the garment district, or an old quilt left by a friend, that engage narratives of place.

I think I’m here because I like the big, open space. I can’t say that it changed my work, but the very fabrics and textures around me have changed and those have found their way into my work. Rusted roofing tin and straw pieces used in adobe are examples. I paint with oil on canvas (of course canvas is a material, too, as is paint—and they each have their histories). We were talking about martial arts before the interview. In some of my work, I’m using canvas that used to be an Aikido mat cover. Aikido, a Japanese martial art that I studied for thirty-six years, is practiced on woven straw mats called tatami that are covered with canvas. When those mat covers wear out, they have to be replaced. I was given the old canvas covers, which I used in place of traditional painting canvas, thereby calling up the bodies that had traversed that canvas for years, including my own.

In the most recent paintings, I’m using burlap from recycled coffee sacks, which I get here in town. I cut them up, and collage them onto canvas in order to build a textured surface. In the Chenille paintings, like the one hanging over there, the texture and warm white color suggest the comfy softness of tufted chenille bedspreads, but with an edge as under layers of color push up through splits and tears in the burlap, ooze out of grommet holes, or seep into the white paint making it a little brownish gold. It’s a question of what is hidden, what’s buried underneath and how does it assert itself? I try to give agency to what’s hidden or buried underneath the comfy white cover.

It’s intentional that the seams show, that we see things are pieced together. I don’t like digital seamlessness. Piecing, patching, fraying, layering, suturing are loaded with meaning.

When I say something’s bleeding through and asserting itself through the whiteness, I mean that metaphorically and not just formally. That’s how I work. The physical functions metaphorically to provide content. That’s why all the seams: the frayed edges are important to me. It’s intentional that the seams show, that we see things are pieced together. I don’t like digital seamlessness. Piecing, patching, fraying, layering, suturing are loaded with meaning.

Do you feel a part of a legacy of artists, specifically women artists, working in New Mexico? What about a legacy of queer artists or lesbian artists? Or a queer or lesbian community?

There’s a long tradition of artists coming to New Mexico. I’m one of those artists, and I’m one who didn’t just come and go but who came and stayed. I see myself in multiple artistic traditions such as abstract painting, expanded painting, feminist art, or queer art, just like I think any artwork participates in multiple narratives. The art and artist can be addressed within any of those narratives. In terms of New Mexico, I am very aware of being part of a tradition of women artists, photographers, anthropologists, and writers, many of whom identified as lesbian or bisexual, who came West because of the wide, open space. It’s outlaw territory. You’re free to be who you think you are or want to be. For women who couldn’t fit in where they grew up on the East Coast, or who didn’t want to be what the social mores of the time expected of a young woman, what she should be, or who just wanted to do something else, but didn’t have money to go and carve white marble in Italy; they went west. I love that that legacy as well as the history of strong creative women who have always lived here.

What made you choose Galisteo?

Once I had made the decision to permanently settle in New Mexico, I walked around all the places that I liked, and it just had to feel right. I looked at empty land; I looked at existing structures. I liked old buildings, but a lot of them were fixed up and expensive. You paid a lot of money for someone else’s taste, which I usually hated. I would walk the land in different weather, different times of day. I liked many villages up north, but I realized that I wasn’t really welcome there. This was in the eighties. As much as I wanted to think that people would see me working on the property—working does count for a lot—and I would fit in and be accepted, I slowly realized that I shouldn’t be living there. Here, in Galisteo, it felt very good. The land felt good. The mix of people felt good. I had seen this old stone structure, the lanera or wool barn, from the highway, but I had never walked back here to check it out, because it was on somebody’s property. For the most part it had not been lived in, so it was pretty rough going at first. Many people rolled their eyes when I bought it. Everyone except Lucy [Lippard]. Like me, she had lived in raw industrial lofts in New York, so could imagine how the rough interior space might be fixed up for living.

As an artist, do you feel like you have to be selfish, to protect your time or insulate yourself from the world?

Selfish isn’t the word that I would use. Of course I protect my time. I’m very structured about my time, or I wouldn’t get anything done. I learned to do that early on as a single mom. Because I was the only one in my group of women artist friends in New York who had a child, I used time very differently than they did. As a single parent, I learned to use little bits of time productively. You can’t wait to have long uninterrupted stretches to work on your art, because that time never comes. I could do certain kinds of work when my daughter Tanya was around, but for other stuff, I had to wait until she went to bed. Then I could focus. I also chose to have a half-time job (and half a salary) in order to have regular time in the studio.

I don’t separate what I’m doing outside and what I’m doing inside, or what I do in the house from what I do in the studio. For me, they just kind of flow together and feed each other.

I remember being here working at the computer and seeing you outside dragging a huge piece of metal across the yard. You are so active. And your work really involves your body. It’s really physical. Can you talk about that a little? About how you use your body in your work?

I am very physical. Manipulating materials is what I do. It’s obviously very important to me and I get pleasure from it. Oh, I know what I was going to say about your word, “selfishness.” I think what I’m more aware of in relation to time (other than there is never enough of it), is “privilege.” I have an awareness of privilege. To be able to work, even as a single mom, or when I was commuting and teaching, to somehow be able to do my work, to be able to do what my passion is, and be recognized for it, is a real privilege. Yes, I have to set boundaries; yes, I have priorities, and the work is the major part of my life, for sure, but other things, like teaching or the martial arts that I did for so many years, they’re part of the work too. I don’t separate what I’m doing outside and what I’m doing inside, or what I do in the house from what I do in the studio. For me, they just kind of flow together and feed each other. And normally it feels pretty good, unless I get too anxious about something. The multitasking can get out of hand.

And so you feel like your garden space, your house, is all continuous with your practice?

It’s all “the work.”

Photo by Clayton Porter.

Press

Material Witness: Aldrich presents a survey of Harmony Hammond’s work, The Ridgefield Press

Posted 04/9/19

Material Witness: Aldrich presents a survey of Harmony Hammond’s work

Brad Durrell, March 7, 2019

A comprehensive look at the work of a woman at the forefront of feminist and lesbian art is coming to the region.

After moving to New York City, artist Harmony Hammond in the 1970s co-founded the city’s first all-women’s co-op gallery, A.I.R., and the journal Heresis: A Feminist Publication of Art & Politics. She later wrote the book Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History, still considered a go-to source on the subject.

The Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art exhibit runs from through Sept. 15 at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. It will be the first museum survey — or comprehensive career overview — of her work, covering her creative efforts from 1971 to 2018.

“What makes Hammond’s work so significant is not only her dedication to her own practice, but also her advocacy for the visibility of feminist, lesbian and queer art and artists,” said Amy Smith-Stewart, Aldrich Museum curator and organizer of the show.

“A true trailblazer, she is not only a pioneering artist but also an activist, author and independent curator,” Smith-Stewart said.

Her work has been shown at museums throughout the world, from Munich to Mexico City. It’s in the permanent collections of many others, including Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum and three “well-known New York institutions — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Brooklyn Museum.

Hammond, 74, is known for her large installational paintings, painted textiles and sculptures, and for combining abstract images with both traditional and scavenged materials, such as rags, burlap, straps, straw, leaves, dirt, hair, burnt wood, grommets and rope.

The result is “surfaces and forms infused with social implications,” according to an Aldrich Museum press release.

The Aldrich show will bring together paintings, drawings, sculptures, textiles, mixed media and printed materials.

The exhibit includes the 1989 mixed media painting Chicken Lady, highlighting a woman who lived with her animals in cars and trailers on the Milford waterfront. The piece includes an old quilt and recycled rusty roofing tin.

“The work raises issues of gender and class — the homeless, the misfit, the alien, the artist, the female outsider who cannot participate in society or chooses not to,” according to the museum release.

The show will feature the Presences and the Floorpieces, textile-based installations made in the early 1970s with discarded fabric collected from friends and garment district dumpsters. Parts of fabric are braided, painted or dyed. The Presences had been part of her first solo exhibition in New York.

Hammond considers Floorpieces, featuring painted textiles in circular shapes on the floor, to be one of her most important works because it’s “negotiating a space … between art and craft.”

The vast gallery spaces in the 17,000-square-foot Aldrich Museum present a rare opportunity to display Hammond’s large and uniquely shaped art, said Emily Devoe, Aldrich head of marketing and communications.

Five of the original seven Floorpieces will be installed together for the first time at the Aldrich in a double-height gallery, offering an aerial view. “You’ll be able to walk through and around them and also see all of them from above in a special viewing area,” Devoe said.

Smith-Stewart has been working on the show for a few years, securing work from museums and private collections and having frequent interactions with the artist. She said Hammond has “been crucial to what works were chosen and how they will be installed in the museum,” while Devoe said the artist has “been gracious with her time and knowledge.”

Hammond’s impact on the contemporary art world has been significant. “Visionaries like Hammond must be celebrated for their tireless opposition and their influential dedication, which has provided visibility and context for so many unheard and marginalized voices and histories,” Smith-Stewart said.

Hammond was born in Chicago and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1967. Two years later she moved to New York and began participating in feminist art activities, curating and showing her work in openly lesbian shows, and teaching at the New York Feminist Art Institute.

She moved to New Mexico in 1984, where she still lives, and was a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Deciding what to include in a museum survey can be a challenge. “Since the exhibition covers nearly fifty years, we needed to show representative works from the many important series within her long career — her early years in New York City and her time in the Southwest,” Smith-Stewart said.

She said “many of the works are being presented together here for the first time, others have rarely been seen, and some haven’t been shown for decades.”

The exhibit will include the production of a hardcover book with text and photographs of Hammond’s work, to be available in May or June.Harmony Hammond

Image: Harmony Hammond, Floorpiece VI, 1973, Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York © 2018 Harmony Hammond / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Jeffrey Sturges

Press

Inside Out: Harmony Hammond’s Queer Art of Bondage, Frieze

Posted 04/9/19

Inside Out: Harmony Hammond’s Queer Art of Bondage

There are few artists more overdue for attention than Harmony Hammond, the pioneering lesbian feminist whose first US institutional survey opened this month at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. A prolific painter and sculptor for over five decades, Hammond is perhaps best known as co-founder of both A.I.R., launched in 1972 as the first artist-run gallery in the US dedicated to the work of women artists, and of Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art & Politics (1977–93), which transformed the emergent discourse of feminism in the arts. Her book Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (2000) is an academic classic. But it is in Hammond’s own artworks that her politics take clearest shape: across the four galleries of this compact exhibition, abstraction is a direct invocation of women’s bodies and the work they produce. Intense textures lend her paintings and sculptures an erotic charge; here, surface is a window onto the interior self.

One early painting, The Black Leaf (1976), is a useful starting point: a lozenge-shaped canvas coated in black wax medium that Hammond gouged out in a herringbone pattern, revealing a raw dermis of red oil paint beneath. The work’s stitch-like motif not only invokes the ‘women’s craft’ of basket and textile weaving, which Hammond considers the anthropological genesis of abstract art, but through its visceral execution carries a powerful political message. Writing of the scraped and torn paintings of Louise Fishman and Joan Snyder in a 1977 issue of Heresies, Hammond remarked: ‘The reversal of the usual additive process of painting refers to the violation of the traditional painting surface and also to the physical and psychic violation of women.’

Violence is always close at hand in Hammond’s work. Daubs of red on the acrylic and straw coat of one untitled canvas from 1998 resemble blood on matted fur. A nearby diptych sports a gruesome gash where its panels have been joined together (Untitled, 1995). As material for basket weaving , straw has gendered connotations; it also invokes the land, another gendered and colonized body. Sieve (1999) features a rusted metal sheet riddled with bullet-sized holes affixed to a canvas slathered in red oils. The work makes obvious reference to the 1950s spacialism of Lucio Fontana, whose slashed and punctured canvases ruptured the modernist picture plane and extended the declarative flatness of abstract painting into real space. Hammond goes further still: her pierced canvases are not just three-dimensional but appear almost to be flesh incarnate, with holes a Doubting Thomas might finger.

There is a similarly fleshy quality to Hammond’s sculptures, though they appear not freshly wounded but healing. Hug (1978), the earliest work on view from her series ‘Wrapped Sculptures’ (1973–84), features two nesting ladders bundled in cloth painted black and shimmering bronze. Though their forms are faintly recognizable, their diminutive size and excess padding render them useless for their original purpose. Instead, we might take Hammond’s title as an invitation to loop our arms around or through their rungs; or, laid horizontally, they could serve as bedframes or stretchers. As Hammond has argued, these sculptures are not bandaged bodies but, rather, their tender innards: skeletons wrapped thinly in meat and skin. ‘Their associations with female body parts and orifices […] conveyed the interior female body – the muscle, tissue, membrane, fluid,’ she wrote in Lesbian Art in America. ‘Intended to create a lesbian sensual presence in the world, they were not about mummifying, binding, bandaging or protection, but about making something out of itself from the inside out, with the insides showing on the outside.’

In the 1980s, Hammond’s art strayed further outside, to the rural landscape of northern New Mexico, where she relocated in 1984. The results were mixed: highly evocative of the countryside, the works lacked nuance in their address of the social and economic conditions there. Take Inappropriate Longings (1992), for instance: at more than five metres long, it’s the largest work in the show and features a motley patchwork of torn and scuffed linoleum flooring, rust-red paint and muddy latex, into which a homophobic slur has been scratched. The triptych foregrounds a weather-beaten trough filled with dead leaves. The work isn’t so much an abstract reference to poor and conservative rural communities in the US as it is an assemblage of its refuse.

These days, though, Hammond is at the very top of her game: the most recent works in the exhibition are also arguably the strongest. Blanco (2012–13), a white monochrome painting criss-crossed with grommeted canvas straps, is a sly and sexual send-up of minimalist tropes, like an Agnes Martin in a straitjacket. (At another glance, it resembles a barn door.) Hammond seems to delight in the constrictions of painting and achieves a masterful range of chroma and texture. It is a model of strength through vulnerability – and of how we might escape the moral and political straitjacket of our time.

Harmony Hammond, Bandaged Grid #1 (detail), 2015, oil and mixed media on canvas. Courtesy: Alexander Gray Associates, New York © 2018 Harmony Hammond / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS); photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

Press

8 Art-Filled Day Trips to the Country this Spring, Galerie Magazine

Posted 04/9/19

8 Art-Filled Day Trips to the Country this Spring

We round up eight beautiful art spaces from the Hudson Valley to idyllic Connecticut

Colleen Curry, April 3, 2019

After a long winter, the first sign of spring can spark a rush to get outdoors and experience nature. And for many New Yorkers, an afternoon spent in the countryside is often paired with blue-chip art. Below, we round up eight beautiful art spaces in the Hudson Valley, the Hamptons, and idyllic Connecticut.

CONNECTICUT

1. The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Ridgefield, Connecticut

Set just over the Connecticut border in the historic enclave of Ridgefield, this institution, which held the first-ever solo museum exhibition of the world-renowned artist KAWS, is using its spring season to champion another underrepresented genius: the lauded lesbian artist, scholar, and teacher Harmony Hammond. This show, the first-ever solo museum survey of her work, showcases the grit and immense physicality of Hammond’s work, which has been weathered, torn, and punctured. In regard to medium, no material is too extreme; Hammond’s work utilizes everything from metal and rope to human blood.

Also on view this spring is a solo exhibition of works by artist N. Dash, who combines pigments, adobe, jute, graphite, and found objects in her nebulous photographs and mixed-media works. Dash’s breakout solo museum show occurred at the UCLA-affiliated Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, but this exhibition does present a different first for the artist: her first-ever monograph, which features an essay by exhibition curator Amy Smith-Stewart.

Press

5 decades of Harmony Hammond’s revolutionary work on view at the Aldrich, CT Post

Posted 04/8/19

The recently opened exhibit on the artist Harmony Hammond is a coup for the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield and one that brings unique gifts to Connecticut viewers.

Curated by the Aldrich’s Amy Smith-Stewart, it is the first attempt by any museum to survey Hammond’s nearly 50-year, still-active career that began by shattering art world and social boundaries and now is seen as prophetic.

Hammond, who gained early fame as a lesbian artist, but now rejects that label as outdated, made paintings that are three-dimensional and sculptures that are painted. Some of her earliest, most radical works are both. Her “Floorpieces” from 1973 is a collection of braided rag rugs, made from fabric scraps pulled from dumpsters, that she also painted and made too thick to walk on.

Spiraling out from the center, they have been compared to mandalas and are also said to look back to pioneer women and forward to the environmental movement. At the time, they were immediately recognized as “paintings” taken off the wall and a feminist response to the minimalist floor sculptures of the art star Carl Andre.

At the Aldrich, five “Floorpieces” occupy a double-height gallery, where they can be viewed from above and seen as Hammond herself has never been seen them: as a stand-alone grouping without competing works on the wall.

Hammond grew up in a Chicago housing project actually called Hometown, that in hindsight seems ironic. She studied art at the University of Minnesota and was young, married and unknowingly pregnant when she moved to New York in 1969. It was the year of the Stonewall Riots, the dawn of the gay-rights movement as well as the feminist and environmental movements.

Soon, Hammond had divorced, joined a conscious-raising group and come out as a lesbian. In the span of a few years, she became a pioneer co-founder of both the celebrated women’s art collective, A.I.R. (in 1972) and “HERESIES,” the feminist journal of art and politics (in 1976).

It marked the start of her second celebrated career as author and scholar. In the late 1980s, she relocated to New Mexico, eventually settling in Galisteo, a town of less than 300 outside Santa Fe. Smith-Stewart visited her there about two-and-a-half years ago to propose an exhibit.

“To be honest, I didn’t know if she would do it, because artists hold out for MOMA or the Whitney,” the curator says, adding that the sheer scale of Hammond’s work made a full retrospective impossible. “It (the exhibit) could have been the entirety of the building. We had to be very selective. We had spatial constraints. So we decided to focus on materials.”

The re-use of cast off or scavenged materials — old clothing, fabric remnants, tin roofing, pieces of hardware — is central to Hammond’s art. “Floorpieces” is a prime example. But so is the exhibit’s star Connecticut attraction, her “Chicken Lady (1989).”

From the entrance to the Aldrich’s second floor South Gallery, it looks to be a very large painting, but it isn’t really. Ten feet wide and eight feet tall, it is constructed mainly from sheets of rusted corrugated roofing that frame a patchwork quilt. Hammond made it as a homage of sorts to a real person: Doris Gagnon, the local folk hero known as the Milford Chicken Lady.

Hammond never met Gagnon, who for years held up construction of Silver Sands State Park, squatting on shorefront property seized from her. She knew her only from the brief description in a 1984 letter from an A.I.R. intern, who saw a connection with Hammond’s exhibition of cartoonish female “personages,” including one titled chicken lady.

In response to an email query, Hammond recognized a kinship between the Milford Chicken Lady and the one at the Aldrich. “The two do seem to share certain characteristics: tough, outsider eccentrics, doing what they damn well please, caring little about gender roles, government regulations, or the opinions of others,” she wrote.

Smith-Stewart says a similar “survivor aesthetic” runs through Hammond’s work. For her Chicken Lady, Hammond reproduced the text of the intern’s letter in turquoise paint. It drips down vertical strips of roofing, paired as if they could be the shutters of the trailer Gagnon was known to live in. The quilt they frame could be its picture window, concealing whoever lives inside.

Smith-Stewart says Hammond chooses materials that tell their own, almost hidden stories. Sharing the same gallery with “Chicken Lady” is an even larger piece, a three-panel installation, made mostly from fragments of linoleum flooring scavenged from abandoned farms Hammond passed commuting from Galisteo to a tenured faculty job at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The right panel has a metal chute embedded in the linoleum’s dark underside. The focus of the center panel is a fragment of the linoleum’s floral surface, oozing red. The left panel positions large floral swatches against a mottled field of gold. Scratched very faintly into the gold, like toilet stall graffiti, are the words “goddamn dyke.”

Titled “Inappropriate Longings,” the 1992 piece is said to be Hammond’s response to a Colorado hate crime. The red streak in the center panel could be blood. And some observers see the metal chute in the right panel as vaguely phallic. But “Inappropriate Longings,” which has been exhibited many times, is about as explicit as Hammond gets.

Her work mainly speaks metaphorically through its materials, Smith-Stewart says. Also in the exhibit are several large monochrome pieces made from the worn out canvas covering of martial arts mats. They might belong on the floor, but Hammond, who practiced Aikido for decades, has them hung on the wall, like paintings.

In another second-floor gallery, she herself oversaw the positioning of the “Presences,” a collection of spectral sculptures made from scraps of clothing donated by friends. Larger than life, they were the subject of her first solo show in 1973. Their reunion at Aldrich is the first time they’ve been seen together in 46 years.

Suspended from the ceiling, they appear to hover in the gallery, beings brought back to life. To stand among is to be surrounded by mute, ragged giants. The exhibit itself is like that: a feat of re-animation and immersion.

Titled “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art,” it runs through Sept. 15. It is to be accompanied by hard-bound catalogue with an essay by Smith-Stewart.

Culture writer Joel Lang is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.

Press

Spring Preview: The Most Promising Museum Shows and Biennials Around the World, ARTnews

Posted 03/6/19

March 4, 2019

Spring Preview: The Most Promising Museum Shows and Biennials Around the World

By The Editors of ARTnews

This spring is shaping up to be a busy season one on the art calendar, with both the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale opening within weeks of each other in May, and notable exhibitions taking place all over in the coming months, from a trailblazing survey of art after the Stonewall Rebellion to retrospectives for Lino Bo Bardi, Huma Bhabha, Luchita Hurtado, and El Anatsui, to biennials in Havana and Honolulu. And this is not even including gallery shows and—one hesitates to even say it—art fairs. Below, a look at the winter’s most promising museum shows and biennials.

NATIONAL

March

“Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art” The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut March 3–September 15

In the early 1970s, Harmony Hammond became a key figure in the feminist art movement for her bejeweled and braided canvases, which she has said offer a female perspective on her medium. Some of her early experiments feature in her first museum survey, with sculptures, paintings, and multimedia pieces created between 1971 and 2018. Among the works areChicken Lady (1989), a mixed-media painting made with bits of quilt and recycled roofing tin that can be seen as signals of gender and class.—Claire Selvin

Press

7 Art Exhibitions You Won’t Want to Miss This Spring, Vogue

Posted 03/6/19

March 1, 2019

Culture > Arts
From Sally Mann to Jacopo Tintoretto, 7 Art Exhibitions You Won’t Want to Miss This Spring

By Marley Marius

For art enthusiasts, the spring months positively teem with things to do and see. In Manhattan alone, the Armory Show, the Whitney Biennial, and Frieze New York will all jostle for attention between now and June; and that’s to say nothing of high-profile exhibitions like “Camp: Notes on Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But there are quieter (and more immediate) delights to be had, too—not only in New York, but in Connecticut, Washington D.C., and Ohio, as well. Here, a few museum shows to keep on your radar this March and April, from celebrations of pioneering female artists to a sprawling, multimedia tribute to the late folk singer Leonard Cohen.

Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art

With “Material Witness, Five Decades of Art,” the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, will be the first to stage a dedicated survey of artist and writer Harmony Hammond’s work. Since the ’70s, Hammond, now 75, has blazed a trail for queer, feminist artists, curating several group shows and publishing Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (Rizzoli) in 2000. Spanning from 1971 to 2018, “Material Witness” gathers together Hammond’s painted and sculpted pieces—along with works on paper, publications, and ephemera—to fete her significant body of work.

“I moved to New York’s Lower East Side, and then to the corner of Spring and West Broadway in early fall 1969,” Hammond has written. “It was a period of civil rights and antiwar activism, the gay liberation movement, the second wave feminist movement, and the birth of feminist art.” In response to early experimentations with feminist art, Hammond began painting on “blankets, curtains, and bedspreads recycled from women friends,” turning the stuff of life into the bases for her art. “Rag strips dipped in paint and attached to the painting surface hung down like three-dimensional brushstrokes,” she recalled, “their weight altering the painting rectangle. Eventually the rags took over and activated the painting field.” Unusually tactile, pieces like these “could be touched, retouched, repaired, and, like women’s lives, reconfigured,” Hammond reflected. Examples of those works, along with later multimedia compositions and more recent “near monochromes,” will all be on show at the Aldrich. Opens March 3.