A discussion on Politics & Abstraction at Redline Denver
Moderated by the director of the Clyfford Still Museum, Dean Sobel; Harmony Hammond, Senga Nengudi, Dr. Elissa Auther, Dr. Tirza True Latimer and Nora Abrams will discuss Politics & Abstraction, Thursday, September 11th at Redline as part of the year long She Crossed The Line programming.
While the panel discussion, Politics & Abstraction, is situated in the midst of Harmony Hammond's solo exhibition "Becoming/UnBecoming Monochrome" that is up in the main gallery through Sep 28, 2014 it also comes on the heels of Senga Nengudi's double exhibition's "The Performing Body" curated by Auther at Redline and "The Material Body" curated by Abrams at MCA Denver.
Hopefully this panel weighs in on national conversations on the continued relevance of formalism and abstraction- i.e. "Can formalism be political?" "crapstraction" "zombie formalism""new casualists" and Michelle Grabner's attention grabbing curation on the fourth floor of this year's Whitney Biennial with what Hrag Vartanian at Hyperallergic called "more painting than we’ve been accustomed to seeing at recent Whitney Biennials."
Similar to Nengudi's enormous suite of sculptures and performance art documents that took over Denver this summer- this exhibition by Hammond entails a retrospective view of her paintings from 1974-2013 including some of her “weave paintings” and “near monochrome” works. Significantly, at the front of the gallery the paintings are juxtaposed with Hammond’s Collection of Fragments, 1974-75 forming the background for understanding the work.
Fragments consists of Hammond's early rotund, basket weavings and clay slabs displayed in an old glass and wood sales case. Referencing the archaeological archive, Hammond exposes these "remnants" for what they actually are- significantly alive abstraction and functional work that holds the possibilities of the performative- especially in relation to the paintings on display. (Insert the dual exhibitions of Nengudi's sculpture and performance here.) The clay slabs pulled from Hammond's labored and woven baskets would be imprecisely mimicked in the oblong shaped works such as Letting the Weather Get In, 1977 and Bitteroot, 1976. Fragments serves to display the lies continued to be re-tied up in the dominant narrative of abstraction.
Even as Hammond and curator Dr. Tirza True Latimer "aim to expand upon the formalist and feminist framework that her work is currently understood" I believe that what is at greater stake is the relationship of the artist's work to artist’s speech. Hammond’s writing in the first publication of Heresies “Feminist Abstract Art- A Political Viewpoint,” 1976 is a crucial and under recognized text in the understanding of some of the practitioners of contemporary abstraction and formalism. One may understand the relationship of Fragments to the suite of paintings through the artist's writing practice. How many gallerists have you heard about that want to control (and possibly stifle) artist's talk and writing? Supposedly it may be inconvenient to closing sales.
While formalism and abstraction seem to have a level of critical discourse foisted on it by the likes of Clement Greenberg I'd argue that this discourse is under-informed and lacking. These kinds of artist writing and speech have become entangled with ideas around the perception of crisis' in critical writing where practioners poo-poo giving any attention to an artist's statements and intentions. This preponderance of narrow art historical categorization serves the dominant culture and sidelines "others."
I leave you with this
"As opposed to validating modern art by way of its connection to the presumed universal values of primitive art, Hammond suggested the counterview: that the so-called primitive abstraction of indigenous women's craft demonstrates the derivativeness of the modern. This strategy allowed Hammond to make a case for abstraction within feminist circles where it was otherwise perceived to be merely a tool of the patriarchy.
In 1977 Hammond published an article, "Feminist Abstract Art: A Political Viewpoint," that responded to the feminist position of the time that abstraction was an over subjective, patriarchal, inaccessible form, and thus irrelevant to feminist revolution.....
that much of women's past creativity, as well as the art by women of non-Western culture, has been abstract. I'm thinking of the incredible baskets, potter, quilts, afghans, lace and needlework women have created. Many of the motifs used were based on "the stitch" itself. The repetition and continuity of pattern resulting from its repetition. Usually these motifs and patterns were abstract and geometric."