’Bitter Suite’ & ’Jane Hammond: Paper Work’

  • by Michael Wood, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday August 20, 2008
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"The Wonderfulness of Downtown" (1997) by Jane Hammond.
"The Wonderfulness of Downtown" (1997) by Jane Hammond.

As record crowds line up for the Chihuly glass extravaganza at the de Young Museum, one can only hope that the museum's less hyped exhibitions won't get lost in the crush. With any luck, visitors will make their way to two deserving though overlooked shows: Jane Hammond: Paper Work and Tim Horn's installation, "Bitter Suite". The latter is part of the ongoing Collections Connections series, which presents new works that re-imagine objects from the permanent collection. It's located in a gallery (a hallway, really) on the second floor. Horn, an Australian artist steeped in decorative arts, states that he's interested in "the intersection between beauty and grotesque, perfection versus vulgarity." Awkward grammar aside, one has to conclude, given what's on view here, that Horn is partial to grossness and the vulgar end of the spectrum, perhaps by choice. However, the construction of his fanciful, fairy-tale objects is certainly an impressive feat from an engineering perspective.

For his points of departure, Horn selected familiar terrain, the European decorative arts collections, and the legendary personage Alma le Normand de Bretteville Spreckels, aka Big Alma, the widow of millionaire sugar baron Adolph Spreckels, founder of the de Young's sister institution, the Legion of Honor. The three large-scale works he has created are, literally, confections. The matriarchal Spreckels was famous for the gilded Neapolitan sedan chair that doubled as a phone booth in the hallway of her Pacific Heights mansion. Horn encrusted his replica of the chair in crystallized rock sugar, transforming it into a copper-colored, candy carriage worthy of Cinderella, and christened it, "Mother-Load." Heavy is the operative word; from all appearances, Horn must have raided the stores of an entire sugar plantation for this exhibition.

Rock sugar is also the primary ingredient in "Diadem (light heavyweight)," a gaudy, 300-lb., baroque chandelier that would be right at home in a decaying house inhabited by Vincent Price living through an Edgar Allan Poe story. It was inspired by an 18th-century rock-crystal piece found in the XV room at the Legion. Taking its cue from Chinese porcelain vases mounted in French gilt bronze, "Sweet Thing" is a three-tiered jeweled structure with blown-glass fixtures resembling enormous gray, teardrop pearls that hang from an ornate, nickel-plated setting fit for a giantess. This must be what Alice in Wonderland beheld when, once down the rabbit hole, she ate the tiny cake that made her grow nine feet tall. (Through Oct. 12.)

Found images

Fifteen years ago, New York artist/painter Jane Hammond invented her own language based on 276 found images she regards as building blocks. Like DNA, she recombines them in unpredictable and inventive ways, describing her final product as "a semiotic genome project." Hammond says her drawings are the equivalent of "thinking out loud," intuitive flow charts and thinking diagrams echoing her controlled yet improvisational, free-associative style, seemingly distant poles and contradictions that lend her creations a satisfying tension.

"Jane Hammond: Paper Work", a discreet view into her private world, showcases 31 large-scale works on paper in a boutique exhibition that takes one back to a time of play or the Victorian era, when people amused themselves with simple entertainments at home. Her working visual vocabulary includes puppets and circus costumes such as a trio of harlequin-suit constructions and matching pointy hats with pompoms, whose intricacy warrants closer inspection; delectable, tactile colored papers, collages, decals, cartoons, maps, silhouettes, scrapbooks and magazine photographs, pasted and arranged in multiple layers. "My Heavens" is an old-fashioned map of the globe with longitude and latitudes penciled in on white background. On two large, dark orbs that intersect at the center, Hammond has pasted stick-on gold stars and images of constellations in the form of ballerinas, an ostrich, stallions rearing, whales, leopards, a sailing ship and sumo wrestlers going at it. "All Souls, Hefei," an example of her delicate trompe l'oeil series, features clusters of exquisite blue and multi-colored butterflies pinned to different destinations on a map; a turquoise sea laps the picture's bottom corners. Like a key to crack a code, "Scrapbook" contains many recurrent visual motifs: decals, signature butterflies, clown suits, matchbooks, a single open eye, feathers, gloves, dice and a naked, tattooed woman, all of which appear in various works throughout.

Hammond has a gift for wordplay in her collages, a talent one wishes she would indulge further. Facets of her work are reminiscent of Duane Michaels, whose collage/ photography/ commentary feels like a close spiritual relative.

Both "Martin House Me" and "Still Life with Seal" are filled with odd imagery and juxtapositions stranger than can be adequately explained here. Suffice it to say that Buddha, Van Gogh, an oversized head of Albert Einstein, Chairman Mao and Jane Russell co-exist in the same exhibition. Frida Kahlo and Gandhi are on hand, too. The longer you look, the more you discover, but don't wait too long. The exhibition closes August 31.

Info: www.deyoungmuseum.org or (415) 750-3600.

Michael Wood is a contributor and Editorial Assistant for EDGE Publications.