New York

Harmony Hammond

Harmony Hammond, also at A.I.R., exhibited a diverse group of work which ranged from woven baskets and sandals (which I mistook for American Indian products at first) to painted collages made of brown paper and shopping bags. Between these extremes of “craft” and “art” were small woven handbags painted and decorated with human hair, pencil drawings of various types of weaves and braids, and several much larger handbags and garments. The last two types, because of their size and number, seem to be the work with which Hammond is presently most involved. The bags hang from their handles on the wall; the garments, or presences as Hammond calls them, are “in the round” on hangers, suspended from the ceiling. Both are made of torn strips of fabric, knotted and sewn to some larger pieces of fabric, all of which is covered and splattered with paint. The colors are dark and earthy: rust, brown, dark blue, yellow, green. These pieces, particularly the bags, have a quality which suggests Oldenburg’s early Street pieces: an apparent colorlessness and formlessness which obscures their relationship to real objects, making possible a more abstract, raw kind of strength. Hammond’s smaller bags and baskets question the distinction between fine art and primitive craft by affirming, once more, the ability of “crafted” objects to convey presence. (They also attest to the fact that she, not just the Indians, can make exquisite baskets.) Her larger pieces refer to a much deeper kind of primitivism. They are chaotic and obsessive in their formation and thus removed from craft and function to a ritualistic, mysterious level of primitivism. On still another level, the bags and garments seem very much involved with painting, with the accumulation of marks on surfaces and with a peculiar beauty which, although seen most openly in the painted paper bag collages, is present in most of Hammond’s work.

––Roberta Pancoast Smith