Material witness, five decades of art
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum presents the first museum survey of the work of Harmony Hammond, trailblazing artist, feminist and lesbian scholar, curator, activist, and author. Spanning almost fifty years, from 1971 to 2018, the exhibition brings together her earliest painted sculptures and sculpted paintings, mixed-media and monumental “installational” paintings of the 1980s and 1990s, 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 until September 15, 2019.
For five decades, Hammond unites Minimalist and Postminimalist concerns—the grid, repetition, an engagement with materials, process, and site activation—with feminist strategies. In doing so, she recovers marginalized craft traditions that combine the abstraction with a wide cast of materials: those that are scavenged and imbued 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.
On view are 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 have been 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.
A full-color scholarly publication co-published with Gregory R. Miller & Co., with an essay by the curator, is available during the exhibition. This book is the first hardcover monograph of Hammond’s work.
For more information visit www.aldrichart.org.