Alexander Gray’s exhibition of the work of Harmony Hammond highlights the artist’s work from the 1990’s, mixing together a divergent series of works using wallpaper, linoleum and other decaying materials plucked from a world between the constructed and cosmetic. Her objects have seen better days, truth be told, eerily reminiscent of slowly rotting farms in the Midwest, or the nefarious forces of Capote’s dark American landscapes. In Hammond’s hands, the two-dimensionally sculpted debris, peppered with brand names of long-gone industrial companies, invoke a yearning for something other than what we experience: the passage of time, the sense of a specific battered place, vague violence, foul weather or foul play.
Harmony Hammond became a leading figure in the feminist art movement during the 1970’s, a co-founder of A.I.R., the first women’s cooperative art gallery in New York in 1972 and a co-founder and co-editor of Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art & Politics. Her decades of engagement with non-traditional materials between painting and sculpture, like her important book, occupy a distinct space within the context of gay culture and political activism.
The show’s titular 1992 work, Inappropriate Longings, is a water trough, half-filled with dried leaves placed in front of the painting, a triptych that moves from a floral pattern to smudgy orange to burnt umber to dark brown across three panels, each section balanced, yet, considered as a whole, possesses an uneasy tension. Ripped cloth or upholstery features yellow and red flowers against a black or dark blue background, a single shot of bright red paint elongated by its gradual descent down the canvas, accents the middle panel. A peeling pink metal gutter, mounted on the right, pulls the piece toward the leaves, fully into the 3rd dimension. The words “goddamn dyke” faintly carved into the oil paint, latex rubber, and linoleum protective skin of the work, reminds one of Hammond’s groundbreaking role in the development of feminist art in the 1970’s and 80’s.
On the ground floor, another triptych of sorts, a trio of rust-colored painted papers punctuated by caramel, cocoa and brick-colored areas reveal three pages of a long letter directly referring to the artist’s writings, and packed with cold copyright info, legalese and other mumbo jumbo forbidding Hammond from unauthorized use of another artist’s work. Her tome had featured closeups of 19 artists while documenting activity in both the mainstream art world and alternative venues. Hammond called lesbian art not a style or movement but art that “comes out of a feminist consciousness.” The overall effect here is defiant memories of dripping paint redacted with blood.
In the rest of the works in the show words and shapes also peak out. Overlapping pieces of what were once parts of floors and walls create patchwork textures laced with occasional imagery. In one, a repeating linoleum pattern of a cowboy on pink, contrasts with filigree and floral patterns, creating an ambiguous collision of gender tropes. But a turquoise shape interrupts the work from top to bottom, returning to the abstract.
Two pieces offer rough fuzzy masses in the form of chunks of furniture fabricated from wood chips with the smooth veneer stripped off. In one, two squares with edges pushed together create a seam painted red, combining a disquieting invitation and a rebuke. The truncated flaxen straw works, terse and rough, contrast with the equally dry but airy, sleek wistful shapes of the leaves strewn about on the floor nearby which surround the long utilitarian oval trough.
The mandarin orange and cranberry hues prevalent in this show are evocative of terra cotta sculpture, shades of lipsticks or cheeky cars from bygone eras. Cracks and smudges, a thick lock of hair as part of a brush hint at displaced utilitarian objects and indeterminate shapes once seen on maps. Placing these various objects and pieces into interrelated space, Hammond achieves something similar to a map in her own right, a space where memory and time mingle to form complicated new spaces.
The show closes May 26th.
– M. Bloch
Harmony Hammond at Alexander Gray [Exhibition Page]