Harmony Hammond: Material Witness,Five Decades of Art exhibition
Harmony Hammond, Inappropriate Longings (1992)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Jeffrey Sturges
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Harmony Hammond

Material Witness, Five Decades of Art

Harmony Hammond has spent her career bending boundaries. Hinging the center with the margins, she has made her life’s work at the hotly generative crossroads where feminism, Minimalism, process art, and biographical experience intersect, while defiantly resisting all such classifying designations. This long-overdue survey examines Hammond’s nearly fifty-year practice, which spans painting, sculpture, and works on paper.
Many works are being presented together for the first time, others have rarely been seen, and some haven’t been shown for decades. Designed in close collaboration with the artist, this survey focuses on Hammond’s process-based methodology and politicized conceptual thinking, as she utilizes materials steeped in socio-economic content to confront gender, sexual orientation, and class through an intersectional lens.
Harmony Hammond, Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York, Photo: Clayton Porter © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Clayton Porter
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Hammond is not only a pioneering artist, but also an activist, author, and independent curator. She was the only artist to be a founding member of both A.I.R., the first all-women’s cooperative art gallery established in New York in 1972, and the Heresies Collective, which published the journal Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics from 1977 to 1993. She authored Wrappings: Essays on Feminism, Art, and the Martial Arts (1984) and Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (2000), which remains the principal text on the subject to date. The invisibility of feminist, lesbian, and queer art and artists spawned Hammond’s interest in curation. Within the exhibition is an extensive archive featuring publications and ephemera that trace Hammond’s various practices as artist, educator, organizer, and writer.

This exhibition brings together works from significant series made in New York from 1971 to 1984: Presences (1971–72), Floorpieces (1973), Weave paintings (1974–77), and the Wrapped Sculptures (1977–84). In 1984, Hammond left New York for Santa Fe, New Mexico, intending to only stay a year. Shortly after, she purchased a stone lanera (wool barn) in Galisteo, which she still occupies today. From the mid 1980s through the late 1990s, Hammond made “installational” and mixed-media paintings composed with vernacular materials she recovered from the Arizona and New Mexico landscape. These works were followed by an ongoing series of paintings she dubbed her “near-monochromes.”

This exhibition surveys the metaphorical behavior of materials across Hammond’s five-decade career. Utilizing a wide cast of materials, Hammond combines objects she retrieves, imbued with their own implications and storylines, and combines them with traditional materials, sometimes used in an unconventional manner. Through primarily additive and accumulative techniques, collaging, wrapping, patching, and braiding, bonded with methods that disrupt and penetrate what she calls the “skin of paint,” puncturing, cutting, ripping, or scoring, Hammond’s surfaces manifest a physicality and vitality that exude an outward toughness—what she defines as a “survivor aesthetic.”
Her visual strategies reference, in her early rag works, the labor of women’s handiwork; in her titanic installational and mixed-media paintings, a fractured rural America; while the renegade surfaces of her near-monochromes suggest bodily associations. Collapsing eras and cultures, Hammond’s fifty years are indebted and committed to the recuperation and resurgence of a revolutionary women’s history. She memorializes an intergenerational and multi-cultural all-female cast that ranges from the weaving, basketry, and beading of indigenous women, the rag rugs of the American pioneers, and the quilts of the African-American women of Gee’s Bend to the resourceful and inventive craftsmanship of the housewives of the prairies, barrios, and middle-class suburbs across the United States.
Harmony Hammond was born in 1944 in Chicago, Illinois, and lives and works in Galisteo, New Mexico.
Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art is organized by Amy Smith-Stewart, Senior Curator, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.
Generous support for Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art is provided by Crozier Fine Arts and Diana Bowes and James Torrey. Media support is provided by Connecticut Cottages & Gardens (CTC&G). Generous support from the Wagner Foundation has helped to make it possible for Material Witness: Five Decades of Art to travel to the Sarasota Art Museum.
Crozier, Connecticut Cottages & Gardens, and Wagner Foundation logos

Chronology

1944Born Chicago, IL.
1950Family moves to Hometown, IL.
1957 – 1961Attends Oak Lawn Community High School.
1960Wins Art Club Scholarship to the Junior School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Spends time with Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, German Expressionist, and Abstract Expressionist paintings.

 

Makes first oil painting, entitled Blue Abstraction.

1961 – 1963Attends Millikin University, Decatur, IL, majoring in Studio Art.
1963

Marries fellow art student Stephen Clover and moves to Minnesota.

First solo exhibition, Coffman Memorial Union, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

1963 – 1967Works as office clerk, waitress, slide projectionist, and artist’s model while attending the University of Minnesota,
Minneapolis (BA, 1967).
1967Hitchhikes with Clover through Europe during the summer, traveling to England, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany,
Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Ibiza; visits collections and exhibitions of non-Western art.
1968Curates first exhibition, Contemporary Graphics Published by Universal Limited Art Editions, Dayton’s Gallery 12, Minneapolis.
1969 Returns to Europe with Clover during the summer; travels to France, Corsica, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Spain. Moves with Clover to East 4th Street in the East Village, New York, in early fall. Several months later Hammond and Clover separate. She learns she is pregnant with their child. Introduced to the post-Judson downtown dance community and participates in Deborah Hay’s movement classes for untrained dancers and June Eckman’s Alexander Technique-based exercise class for women in the arts.
1970 Moves into tiny loft at Spring Street and West Broadway in SoHo. Birth of daughter Tanya. Begins studying T’ai Chi Ch’uan with Cheng Man-ch’ing at the New York T’ai Chi Association; studies and teaches T’ai Chi to women until 1976.
1970 – 1974 Joins Women’s Consciousness Raising Art Work Group, which meets weekly to discuss their work and issues related to being women artists and writers. In 1974, they exhibit together as A Woman’s Group at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.
1971 Moves to loft at 87 Bowery, New York.
1972 Founding member of A.I.R. Gallery, the first nonprofit, artist-run gallery for women in the country, with Nancy Spero, Barbara Zucker, Patsy Norvell, Dotty Attie, Judith Bernstein, and fourteen others. Located in SoHo, the gallery opens in the fall.
1973 Has solo exhibition at A.I.R. Gallery in January. (Leaves A.I.R. in 1974 and has solo exhibitions as a non-member in 1982 and 1984.) Begins studying Aikido with Yoshimitsu Yamada at the New York Aikikai; continues to study and teach Aikido in New York and New Mexico until 2009. Teaches private Studio Seminar for Women Artists with Louise Fishman and Norvell. Visiting artist at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
1975 Teaches T’ai Chi at Sagaris, an educational institute and think tank for radical feminist leadership, in Lyndonville, VT. Hammond leaves the Bowery for Water Street, then Maiden Lane, finally settling at 129 West 22nd Street in Chelsea in 1976.
1976 Visiting artist in Feminist Core Program, College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN.
1977 Founding member of the Heresies Collective, with Lucy R. Lippard, May Stevens, Susana Torre, Joyce Kozloff, Joan Snyder, Michelle Stuart, Elizabeth Hess, Joan Braderman, Pat Steir, Mary Beth Edelson, and others. The Collective publishes the quarterly Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics (1977–93). Co-editor for Issues #1, 3, and 9, and publishes articles in seven issues; works as administrative coordinator 1977–78.
1978 Curates and exhibits in A Lesbian Show at 112 Greene Street Workshop, New York. Teaches at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Makes first editioned lithograph at the Tamarind Institute of Lithography, Albuquerque (returns in 1992, creating four lithographs).
1979 Receives National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture and is awarded residencies at Yaddo and MacDowell artist colonies (returns to MacDowell in 1981 and 2017).
1980 Visiting artist, The Woman’s Building, Los Angeles. Teaches at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
1981 Prints first lithographs at Vermillion Editions in Minneapolis. Curates and exhibits in Home Work: The Domestic Environment As Reflected in the Work of Women Artists, sponsored by the New York State Council of the Arts (NYSCA) and The Women’s Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls, NY. Teaches at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
1982 Receives CAPS grant in sculpture from NYSCA. Teaches at Philadelphia College of Art and Mason Gross School of the Arts, Douglass College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.
1983 Receives a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Graphics. Teaches at Hunter College and the Feminist Art Institute, New York.
1984 Publishes Wrappings: Essays on Feminism, Art and the Martial Arts, a collection of writings and lectures from 1973–83, with TSL Press, New York. Drives to Santa Fe, NM. Plans to stay one year but ends up moving permanently.
1985 Co-curates Women of Sweetgrass Cedar and Sage with Jaune Quick-to-See Smith at the American Indian Community House Gallery, New York; Wheelwright Museum, Santa Fe; and other venues. Teaches at the Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT (also 1986, 1987, 1990, 1997, and 2012).
1986 Teaches at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.
1988 Visiting Faculty at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Joins the faculty as Professor of Fine Art in 1989, receiving tenure the following year.
1989 Purchases old stone lanera (wool barn) in Galisteo, a small Hispano village south of Santa Fe, and sells loft in Chelsea. Receives Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (also 2007).
1990 Teaches summer workshop at Anderson Ranch, Snowmass Village, CO (also 1995, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2014). Begins writing Lesbian Art in America, visiting artists’ studios in Los Angeles, New York, and other locations.
1991 Receives John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and applies award to building large studio behind the house in Galisteo.
1992 With Al Loving, teaches at International Art Workshop in Dunedin, New Zealand.
1993 Mentor-teacher and visiting artist at Vermont College MFA Program, Montpelier (and thirteen additional years, through 2017).
1994 Residency at Rockefeller-funded Bellagio Study Center, Italy.
1995 Awarded Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Fellowship.
1996 Co-curates Gender, fucked with Catherine Lord, Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA.
1996 – 1998Co-chair of Queer Caucus for Art, College Art Association (with James Smalls).
1997Curates and exhibits in Material Girls: Gender, Process & Abstract Art Since 1970 at Gallery 128, New York.
1998Member of the Curatorial Committee for and exhibits in Troubling Customs, Queer Caucus for Art exhibition at the Ontario College of Art & Design, Toronto, and School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

Receives Joan Mitchell Foundation Award.

1999Curates and participates in Out West and Out West Queer Video for PLAN B Evolving Arts, Santa Fe.
2000Publishes Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (Rizzoli), which receives Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Studies (2001).
2001Makes 5 x 10 ft monotypes at the Visual Art Center, North Adams, MA.
2005Teaches last classes at the University of Arizona, officially retiring in 2006.
2006Emily Harvey Foundation Residency in Venice, Italy.
2007

Through the Flower Award for significant contributions to the Feminist Art Movement.

Curates ¿Y Que?: Queer Art Made in Texas, Landmark Arts, Texas Tech University, Lubbock.

2008 National Women’s History Month Honoree. Resident-artist faculty, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Madison, ME.
2011 Makes monotypes with Marina Ancona at 10 Grand Press, Santa Fe (also 2013 and 2015).
2012 Curates Material Engagements, RedLine, Denver, CO.
2013 Distinguished Feminist Award, College Art Association.
2014 Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award, Women’s Caucus for Art. Anonymous Was A Woman Award.
2016 Harmony Hammond Papers acquired by the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
2017 Commissioned by New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, to create a lithograph at Landfall Press. Inducted into the National Academy, New York. Compiled and edited by Margaret Ewing and Caitlin Monachino
Harmony Hammond Untitled, 1995 Straw, acrylic, oil on canvas (diptych) Each 74h x 82w in. (187.96h x 208.28w cm) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York Photo: Herbert Lotz © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond
Untitled, 1995
Straw, acrylic, oil on canvas (diptych)
Each 74h x 82w in.
(187.96h x 208.28w cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Herbert Lotz
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

In the mid to late 1990s, Hammond made a series of works ranging in scale that utilized straw, a natural material that has many uses: fuel, feed, bedding, thatching, and even weaving and basket making. Hammond used pieces of straw, one to one and a half inches in length, which are usually mixed into adobe for plastering and brick making. Untitled (1995) is a large diptych in which the surfaces and sides of both canvas panels are entirely disguised with straw dipped in acrylic medium, with a few spots of paint. Between the two panels—which don’t quite line up—is a red crevice, a physical and figurative gap implying not only the menstruating body, but what Hammond describes as “a violent rupture, referring to the exploitation of both land and the gendered body.” In contrast, the smaller Untitled #1 (1995; also on view) utilizes straw as well as acrylic medium and oil paint, but bleeds from the edges and between its successive layers, suggesting an internal injury.

Over time, the paintings from the late 1990s became more minimal with fewer objects and streamlined materials. Sieve (1999), is made from a found sheet of eroded metal. Pierced by an uneven grid of nail holes, it was someone’s handmade “sieve.” The opposite side, an area that always interests Hammond, had points that projected from the holes similar to a “grater,” reminiscent of the bristly surfaces of the 1970s Weave paintings. Hammond fastened the metal, with the “grater-like” side out, onto a small stretched canvas painted red. The paint seemingly bleeds and thickens where it is attached around the perimeters of the metal and through the punctures. Oil from the paint stains the grimy surface, implying scabby flesh.

Presences

Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019 (installation view, Balcony Gallery, left foreground clockwise, Presence III, VIII, VI, V, 1972; Presence II, 1971 and Presence IV, 1972) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York Photo: Jason Mandella © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019
(installation view, Balcony Gallery, left foreground clockwise, Presence III, VIII, VI, V, 1972; Presence II, 1971 and Presence IV, 1972)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Jason Mandella
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The Presences take their forms from multiple aggregate layers of dyed and acrylic-dipped cloth, secured and sewn together. Hammond refers to their demonstrative attributes as “three- dimensional brushstrokes.” Although she was formally trained as a painter, Hammond began making work that, over time, became more sculptural. Moving out into the room, the six of the seven Presences on view (originally eight, seven remain after Hammond destroyed Presence I) resemble specters, ceremonial robes, or powerful abstract bodies. The rags hang down from wooden coat hangers, dangling from perceptible ropes anchored to the ceiling, so their bottom edges gently graze the floor. The Presences insinuate primeval warriors or, as she offers, “a ragtag army of women claiming space.”

Harmony Hammond Presence II, 1971 Acrylic, dye, cloth, rope, metal, wood 70h x 24w in. (177.80h x 60.96w cm) Collection of Tanya Hammond Photo: Eric Swanson © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond
Presence II, 1971
Acrylic, dye, cloth, rope, metal, wood 70h x 24w in.
(177.80h x 60.96w cm)
Collection of Tanya Hammond
Photo: Eric Swanson
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Weave Paintings

The Weave Paintings (1974–77) were named after their uniquely raised surfaces, which at first glance appear to be woven out of paint. To achieve this striking visual effect, Hammond scored herringbone and braid patterns into wet layers of oil paint and Dorland’s Wax Medium with the other end of her paint brush.

She says of her process:
For me, the painting skin, that edge where art and life meet, always relates to the body as site. To layer strokes of paint is to accumulate, to build on the body. To caress. To incise into the painting surface is to cut into the body. Looking beautiful and woven from a distance, almost monochrome, up close the under layers of color were exposed and little points protruded from the surface of the painting. These points were at once menacing and fragile.

The earliest Weave paintings are squares and rectangles and mostly feature somber hues. Some Weaves, like The Black Leaf (1976), are lozenge-shaped. Hammond, discovering the shaped stretcher bars at Pearl Paint, was attracted to their readymade corporal dimensionality—the bars’ curves reference subtle inflammations and rounded edges where she inserted rags or crumpled newspaper between the canvas back and the stretcher bars; what she describes as a minor tempering of the right angle of most paintings’ edges.

Floorpieces

Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019 (installation view, left clockwise, Floorpiece V; IV; II; III; VI, all 1973) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York Photo: Jason Mandella © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019
(installation view, left clockwise, Floorpiece V; IV; II; III; VI, all 1973)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Jason Mandella
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

In 1973, Hammond created what she considers to be her “most radical works referencing women’s traditional arts.” The seven floor paintings in the series are made out of colorful and sometimes patterned commercial knit fabric waste (the ends of industrial bolts) amassed off curbs and pinched from dumpsters outside sweatshops in SoHo, then a garment district, near her Bowery studio in Lower Manhattan. Three Floorpieces were debuted in the 1974 exhibition, A Woman’s Group, at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York.

Harmony Hammond
Floorpiece V, 1973
Acrylic on fabric
59 in. diameter
(175.26 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Jeffrey Sturges
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Hammond says of these works:
Strips of fabric were braided according to traditional braided rug techniques, but slightly larger and thicker in scale, coiled, stitched to a heavy cloth backing and partially painted with acrylic paint. Referencing rag rugs, but non-functional as such, the Floorpieces occupy and negotiate a space between painting (off the wall) and sculpture (nearly flat) although… I thought of them primarily as paintings. Approximately one inch high and five and half feet in diameter, the Floorpieces were to be placed directly on the floor and shown as a group without anything on the walls, thereby calling into question assumptions about the “place” of painting.

For Hammond, the braid represents an entrenched lesbianism; what she describes as “strands of like kind touching and being woven together for strength,” a form that made its first appearance in earlier drawings such as Oval Braid (1972; also on view). The Floorpieces do impersonate the character of customary rag rugs, but their incompatibility exalts the fringes, thrusting women’s manual labors into the sacred “center.” Putting pressure on traditional painting practice, the Floorpieces, according to curator and author Lucy R. Lippard, “could be seen as ironic comments on male Minimal art, especially Carl Andre’s flat metal grids, often referred to as ‘rugs’.*

To make these works, Hammond recalls that she would “sit on the floor in the center of one of the pieces, coiling the fabric, pushing it out from the center,” an approach indebted to both her martial arts training at the time (she practiced the ancient Chinese martial art, t’ai chi ch’uan, from 1970 to 1976, and the modern Japanese martial art, Aikido, from 1973 to 2009), and the consciousness- raising circles she formed with her female colleagues from 1970 to 1974.

The main five Floorpieces are exhibited together in the manner that Hammond had originally intended: on the floor, absent of any work on the walls. Installed to be carefully walked around and observed at every angle, each Floorpiece irradiates a mandala-like energy.

* Lucy R. Lippard, “Harmony Hammond: Towards a Politics of Abstraction,” published on the occasion of the exhibition Harmony Hammond: Ten Years 1970–1980 (Minneapolis: The Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota, 1981).

Inappropriate Longings

As Hammond traveled between New Mexico and Arizona, commuting between Galisteo and Tucson, she scavenged materials and objects from vacated family farms foreclosed during the 1980s farming crisis after years of calamitous drought: roofing tin, large swatches of linoleum, charred wood, gutters, troughs, buckets, and kettles, as well as screens, rakes, and slop sinks. For her, these are materials that “bear witness to the harshness of rural life and to lives acted upon by natural and man-made forces.”

Leaving their age and dilapidation intact, Hammond juxtaposed these retrieved objects with organic materials such as straw, leaves, and dried roots, sealing their “wounds” with paint and latex rubber. The dense compositions are loaded with biographical resonance and complex accounts about “loss, violence and survival.”

The old linoleum particularly appealed to Hammond because of its domestic overtones. As an ordinary and inexpensive flooring material found in almost any American household, its aged surface shows wear and tear. Here, Hammond places these pieces inside a larger meta- narrative about sustained injury and possible recuperation.

The immense triptych, Inappropriate Longings (1992), uses materials and objects retrieved from deserted farmsteads to allude to forbidden yearning and a veiled violation. It was exhibited, along with several other paintings, including Untitled (1995; also on view), in a 1998 exhibition at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, New York. Hammond juxtaposes oil and acrylic paint and latex rubber against found materials: aged linoleum, a broken metal gutter, and an old trough filled partially with dried cottonwood leaves. Carved into the latex rubber of the left panel are the words “Goddamn dyke,” an act that Hammond says sought to “insert a queer bodily presence into the regions of rural America and the modernist painting field.” Unexpected vandalism, decipherable only when up close, these words link Inappropriate Longings to a hate crime that took place during Colorado’s 1992 passage of Amendment 2, an act that denied gays protection from discrimination.

Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019 (installation view, Rib, 2013) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York Photo: Jason Mandella © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019
(installation view, Rib, 2013)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Jason Mandella
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Bandaged Grid

For this series, Hammond affixed torn, frayed, canvas strips like dressings and compresses to an underlying grommeted grid, partially obscuring and padding its abscesses and fissures. Bandaged Grid #1 (2015) employs a range of off-whites and cream-colored pigments, applied sparingly, as a “poultice” to mend and bind. Thin watery reddish or brown tones soak through the ripped strips of canvas or leak out of the protuberant holes. The gridded holes never align; instead, they extend, expand, and unsettle the near monochromatic surface while also suggesting body orifices.

Hammond writes in her artist statement, Material Engagements:
A bandage always implies a wound. A bandaged grid implies an interruption of the narrative of the modernist grid and therefore, an interruption of utopian egalitarian order …a precarity.
But also, however fragile, the possibility of holding together, of healing.

Harmony Hammond Bandaged Grid #1, 2015 Oil and mixed media on canvas 441⁄4h x 761⁄2w x 21⁄2d in. (112.40h x 194.31w x 6.35d cm) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond
Bandaged Grid #1, 2015
Oil and mixed media on canvas
441⁄4h x 761⁄2w x 21⁄2d in.
(112.40h x 194.31w x 6.35d cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Chenille #6 (2017-18) is one in a series of new near-monochrome paintings. Chenille fabric is defined as “a wool, cotton, silk, or rayon yarn with protruding pile.” Like earlier works in the exhibition, Hammond invokes undervalued textile traditions. She has said about this series, “Chenille experts, like quilters, share… [a] technique of puncturing fabric from the backside… the chenille reference is visual—performed by paint and other materials on the surface of the canvas, rather than the puncture of a needle and thread.” The near-white Chenilles integrate rough burlap recycled from coffee sacks and a relief of grommets. This series, Hammond says, “suggest[s] the soft grids of chenille tufts and domestic warmth of cozy bedspreads, but with an edge.”

In Chenille #6, pieces of crudely cut and painted burlap expose nubs and dimples to suggest a threadbare coverlet. The layers may well be protective, but they might also suppress or suffocate. Color seeps through in a buttery staining that mimics perspiration or infected tissue. A small section in the painting’s lower center reveals a gap where two burlap sections are just about to touch, evincing a maimed body in a dark red gash that suggests conditions festering beneath.

Ledger Drawings

Hammond has made many bodies of drawings over the decades, which she refers to as “visual diaries”: early notebooks from the 1970s, as well as the Flesh Journals and Blood Journals (both on view), and, in 2015, the Ledger Drawings, Suite A and Suite B. Each suite is composed of five drawings on durable gridded record-keeping paper. Using blue or red ink, she filled each sheet in its entirety with verbal insults, descriptive ridicule, and disparaging slights of the kind she had often heard used to denigrate women artists late in their careers. This alluded to writing as a form of punishment, like the disciplinary tool frequently exercised by school teachers. In Ledger Drawings, Suite A Hammond dedicates each page to a singular sexist slur: “vintage” or “obsolete,” or an offensive descriptor, “dragon lady” or “your generation.” One permutation that is particularly jarring when written in succession is “down girl” or “girl down.” Reclaiming a punitive system, Hammond castrates such derogatory missives by exhausting their authority through reiteration.

Blood Journals

Made during a residency at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Northern Italy, Blood Journals (1994) incorporates menstrual blood, one of the most fraught and in some cases taboo human bodily fluids. In the 1970s, many female artists, from Judy Chicago (b. 1939) to Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939), used menstrual blood as a primary material to make political statements. Hammond’s initial choice was more pragmatic. Some of the art materials she sent to Bellagio in advance had not arrived. Anxious to get to work, she realized that she had her own internal pigment. After dripping and rubbing the blood onto the paper, she scratched phrases loosely lifted from filmmaker, author, and composer Trinh T. Minh-ha’s 1989 book, Woman, Native, Other: Writing postcoloniality and feminism, into one of the dry-blood pages; a bodily cycle, a text inscribed by and onto the female body.

Flesh Journals

Around 1990, Hammond began work on her epic opus, Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (2000), the first history of lesbian art in the United States from 1970 on. The book adeptly unites art, gay, lesbian, and queer communities, and remains the principal text on the subject to date.

Combining text and latex rubber, Hammond made the Flesh Journals (1993) one semester while she was teaching in Tucson. Lacking the studio space to work on a larger scale, she poured liquid rubber into old broiler pans purchased at Goodwill. Once dry, she pulled the latex pages out of the pans and incised into them charged messages, words that resounded with internal conflicts experienced as she endeavored to complete the first (and still only) comprehensive history of contemporary American lesbian art.

Wrapped Sculptures

In 1977, Hammond initiated a new body of work, the Wrapped Sculptures. These pieces were made by wrapping cloth around found or fabricated wooden armatures, then coating the resulting swollen forms with gesso and paint or latex rubber. At times she added glitter, faux pearls, or ruffles, to “feminize and mess with the ‘serious minimal’ (male) sculptural forms.” These works range in size from upper-body-scaled to life-size, from singular forms to pairings and groups, or site-responsive installations. Some of the forms were installed to project off the wall, others were supported by it, and, when in groupings, were in dialogue—“touching” or offsetting one another.

Harmony Hammond
Dogon, 1978/2015
Cloth, wood, acrylic
39h x 34w x 7d in.
(99.06h x 86.36w x 17.78d cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Eric Swanson
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Hammond’s earliest Wrapped Sculptures “were forms to hold the body: cradles, rafts, and ladders,” later developing into “stand-ins for the female body.” Conceptually, they behave as metaphorical representations of how our bodies are made. She says these works have “an internal armature . . . [that] functioned as a skeleton, with the fabric as muscle or flesh . . . latex paint or liquid rubber . . . became the skin.” She identifies this as her “first body of work that was consciously lesbian.”

She writes in her book Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (Rizzoli, 2000):
Their associations with female body parts and orifices… the physical manipulation of materials… conveyed the interior female body—the muscle, tissue, membrane, fluid. 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—a kind of presence as essence made visible.

Near Monochromes

Hammond refers to the paintings made in the early 2000s onwards as “near-monochromes” of thick paint with grommeted straps, pushpins, laces; ropes, folds, flaps, cloth strips approximating bandages, and patches of coarse burlap activating the painting surface. As with Sieve (1999; also on view), color asserts itself through gaps, rips, and apertures.

Hammond writes in her artist statement, Material Engagements:
Grommeted cotton canvas speaks of tarps, tents and drop cloths—it’s tough and functional—it has a job to do. For me there are additional associations. Some of the paintings . . . include or are on repurposed canvas that was originally used to cover the woven tatami mats used in Aikido, the Japanese martial art I studied for thirty-six years. Long six- to eight-foot-wide strips of canvas are sewn together to form a rectangular cover for the tatami mats that in turn cover the dojo floor. Over time these mat covers wear out and need to be replaced. The old covers, charged with repeated body contact, including my body, were given to me and I have used them as support in some of the paintings.

I have also included the seams. Consciously countering digital seamlessness, the connecting strategies are intentionally left visible revealing the hand of the artist and the facture of their own making.

In Blanco (2012–13), the grommeted straps are fixed to the canvas with pushpins and staples. The bands zig and zag, spreading out beyond and over the painting’s edges, citing “binding, bandaging, bondage and restraint.” The congealed paint imparts clefts and splits along the ragging seams, and clots around the tacks and grommets. Here Hammond’s strategies and devices seem to be protecting what we do not see or cannot fathom.

In her statement about these works, A Manifesto (Personal) of Monochrome (Sort of), Hammond writes:

The paintings are layered and built out of themselves—from the inside out. Paint is applied with a brush, but it’s not about the stroke or mark in the abstract expressionist sense. The blotchy encrusted surface, both matte and gloss, simultaneously elegant, raw, crude—definitely handmade—functions as indexical sign of maker and making—and yet we aren’t sure how it is made.

Despite the thickness of paint—surface, color and space are indeterminate, unstable, fugitive. We can’t quite locate them. They resist definitive articulation. Unlike a lot of monochromes, the paintings refuse to settle down. The painting surface references other materials and substances at the same time it stubbornly remains itself—paint. Color freed from representation, retains referentiality. Dried blood and other body fluids, wounds, scabs and scar tissue, scraped hides, burned, weathered and patinated surfaces, topographical locations. The body is always near.

In their refusal to be any one thing at the same time they are themselves, the paintings can be seen to occupy some sort of fugitive or queer space and in doing so, remain oppositional . . . both in their refusal to participate fully in the received narrative of modernist painting and, at the same time, their refusal to “look” queer (though we might say that the paintings perform queerly).

The near-monochrome, Gee (2013), commemorates the women of Gee’s Bend, a small rural African-American community surrounded by the Alabama River, celebrated for its exquisite and innovative quilting tradition. Early quilts were notably pieced together from worn sheets, lived-in denim, old clothes, and corduroy to dazzling effect. Their vibrant colors and geometric compositions command the same visual impact as canonical abstract paintings of the mid-twentieth century. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston mounted a major survey exhibition, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, in 2002, presenting more than sixty quilts across four generations (1930-2000). The exhibition traveled to venues across the country including The Whitney Museum of American Art, where it had a tremendous impact on a next generation of painters. Hammond’s composition, like the Gee’s Bend quilts, also incorporates a patchwork of timeworn material. Gee’s heavily painted surface, a glistening crimson red, is also evocative of Robert Rauschenberg’s (1925-2008) series of Red Paintings from 1953-54.
Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019 (installation view, Gee, 2013) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York Photo: Jason Mandella © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019
(installation view, Gee, 2013)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Jason Mandella
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Chicken Lady

Hammond left New York in the fall of 1984, setting out for Santa Fe with the idea of only staying for a year. Embracing the expansive landscape and the rich Native American, Hispano, and Anglo history, Hammond never left. During the summer of 1989, she bought a turn-of-the-century stone lanera (wool barn) in the tiny village of Galisteo, New Mexico, which she still occupies today. As a tenured professor at The University of Arizona, Hammond traveled back and forth from Galisteo to Tucson for seventeen years, until retiring in 2006.
Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019 (installation view, left Chicken Lady: The Intention to Know, 1983; right, Chicken Lady, 1989) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York Photo: Jason Mandella © Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Harmony Hammond, Material Witness: Five Decades of Art, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, March 3 to September 15, 2019
(installation view, left Chicken Lady: The Intention to Know, 1983; right, Chicken Lady, 1989)
Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Jason Mandella
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

During her first decade and a half out West, Hammond made work in response to the psyche of the vast geography and its distinctive cultural history, touched by artists who, like her, were drawn to the Southwest, most notably Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), Rebecca Strand (1891–1968), and Agnes Martin (1912–2004). Capitalizing on her large studio, she made big paintings, confrontational embodiments of a topography that evidenced a palpable emptiness and a haunting disposition.

Hammond began to incorporate panels of used corrugated roofing tin she collected from alleys and vacant lots in the Tucson barrios (then undergoing gentrification), where she initially lived while teaching. She was attracted to this material not only because it was pervasive (used temporarily by transients during the winter months), but also because, she says, it “crosses race and class lines,” like the rags. Reinforced and weather-beaten, it was symptomatic of a tenacious existence.

Chicken Lady (1989) combines a quilt left behind by Hammond’s close friend, the artist Ann Wilson, with three panels of rusted roofing tin. Text, lifted from a letter Hammond received from Marian Doherty, a former A.I.R. intern, is hand-painted in turquoise enamel on the side panels. Hammond’s 1982 exhibition at A.I.R. featured works on paper of her personages, feisty alter-egos she named: Cactus Lady, Fan Lady, Ruffled Waters, and Chicken Lady. Outward nonconformists, they embodied Hammond’s own outlaw attitude. Doherty’s letter (also reproduced in the exhibition) describes a homeless woman who lived among chickens and old cars along the river’s edge in Milford, Connecticut—land she claimed as family property—and asks Hammond if her Chicken Lady shares an affinity to the Milford Chicken Lady. Hammond answers “yes,” her Chicken Lady (as seen here in the large mixed-media painting, Chicken Lady, and in Chicken Lady: The Intention to Know, 1983), “refer[s] to the complexities of gender and social class—the homeless, the misfit, the alien, the artist, [those] who can’t integrate themselves into society or who choose not to”—a tribute to the freethinking women, who, like the Milford Chicken Lady, opted for a way of life that teetered along the peripheries, out on the rims; doing it all on their own terms.