Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT
March 3 – September 15, 2019
The institution's press release follows:
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is pleased to present the first museum survey of the work of the trailblazing artist, feminist and lesbian scholar, curator, activist, and author Harmony Hammond. Spanning almost fifty years, 1971 to 2018, the exhibition will bring together her earliest painted sculptures and sculpted paintings, mixed-media and monumental “installational” paintings of the 1980’s and 1990’s, and recent thickly painted “near monochromes,” as well as works on paper, ephemera, and publications. Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art will be on view at The Aldrich from March 3 to September 15, 2019. Harmony Hammond will be in conversation with art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson from 3:30 to 4:30 pm during the exhibition opening on Sunday, March 3.
For five decades, Hammond has created an inimitable approach that unites Minimalist and Postminimalist concerns—the grid, repetition, an engagement with materials, process, and site-activation—with feminist art strategies. In doing so, she recovers marginalized craft traditions that combine abstraction with a wide cast of materials: those that are scavenged and imbued with redolent stories like fabric, burlap, rope, straw, leaves, roots, pine needles, dirt, hair, blood, bone, linoleum, metal roofing, burnt wood, and grommets; and those that are traditional such as oil and acrylic paint, graphite, watercolor, latex rubber, and bronze. Through her use of primarily additive and connective processes, Hammond has created a network of meaning that “presences the body.” Her surfaces are expressive, skins endowed with fleshly textures, marks, and appendages. They exude a toughness, an imperative energy, predicated on performative muscular procedures of production such as ripping, tying, wrapping, binding, braiding, puncturing, strapping, and patching, resulting in surfaces and forms infused with social implications.
This survey will re-present the Presences (1972) and the Floorpieces (1973), two historic installations that Hammond created shortly after moving to New York in 1969. The Presences were featured in her initial solo exhibition (1973) at A.I.R., the women’s cooperative gallery in New York, which she co-founded in 1972. Larger than life-size, they resemble bodies or ceremonial robes—powerful three-dimensional accumulations assembled from “rags” (discarded fabric collected from female friends) that she dyed and painted with acrylic. Hammond has described the Floorpieces as her “most radical works,” as they “negotiate a space between painting and sculpture” and “between art and craft.” Their circular braided forms reference rag rugs, but are subtly oversized. Hammond braided knit fabric (scavenged from city dumpsters in the garment district south of Houston Street), stitched the braids into coils, and then partially painted the surface with acrylic, leaving sections of the colorful and patterned fabric uncovered. Considered as very flat sculptures or paintings, presented off the wall, five of the original seven Floorpieces will be installed together for the first time at The Aldrich in a double-height gallery, offering an expansive aerial view.
The mixed-media painting Chicken Lady (1989), which includes an old quilt and recycled rusty roofing tin, refers to an eponymous woman who lived with her animals in old cars and trailers on the marshy land along the waterfront in Milford, Connecticut. 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. Similar concerns continue in Hammond’s materially informed paintings of the last decade, which incorporate pieces of rough burlap, straps, grommets, and rope with her signature layers of thick paint. Often referred to as social or queer abstraction, these paintings engage formal strategies and material metaphors suggesting possibilities of restraint, connection, and liberation.