October 3, 2022
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“Simply watch your eyes,” the sculptor Hugh Hayden warned as he circumnavigated the wood faculty desk he had constituted of cedar logs, their branches nonetheless hooked up. The limbs erupted from the seat and desktop, in all instructions — unusual, unruly, alive.

Hayden, 38, was in the final phases of manufacturing at Showman Fabricators in Bayonne, N.J., finishing his most formidable venture to this point. “Brier Patch,” an artwork set up opening Jan. 18 in New York’s Madison Sq. Park, assembles 100 newly minted faculty desks into out of doors “school rooms” throughout 4 lawns. The biggest grouping morphs floor up from an orderly grid of right-angled chairs right into a wild tangle of potential eye-scratching branches intersecting midair.

“He’s concurrently questioning alternative and inequity in the American training system,” Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and chief curator at the Madison Sq. Park Conservancy, stated, providing an interpretation of the “brier patch,” a reference to the fictional Br’er Rabbit tales in addition to to a thorny crop of vegetation. The present opens amid a storm of debates roiling school rooms over curriculum modifications addressing systemic racism and whether or not to stay open amid the Omicron surge.

Hayden, who’s from Dallas, studied structure at Cornell and labored for a decade in that area earlier than receiving his M.F.A. from Columbia in 2018 and transferring on to a full-time profession as a sculptor. Working largely in wooden by hand, he reconstructs vernacular objects in the American panorama — a picnic desk, an Adirondack chair, a suburban fence, a faculty desk — subverting their utility and that means by giving them human qualities.

“The objects themselves are in transition between a cultural object and a pure object,” the artist Mark Dion, a professor and mentor to Hayden at Columbia, stated of those startling hybrid types. “He harkens again to the better of the Surrealists like Man Ray and Meret Oppenheim, the place the objects are actually unsettling. They oscillate on this very uncanny world. It’s a chair and it’s not a chair.”

At Showman, Hayden demonstrated how his logs, salvaged from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, are cut up and planed into usable planks that also protect their lengthy branches, defying customary lumber manufacturing. “My wooden is like bone-in rooster, with the foot even — you’re nonetheless seeing this can be a tree,” he stated. The outcome seems virtually magical but “there’s no smoke and mirrors,” he famous, interested by shifting how folks may take into consideration an on a regular basis piece of wooden.

The next day, the artist, wearing a camouflage looking jacket and cap, led his customer via a capacious new studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, his giant Ibizan hound vying for consideration. Hayden moved right here in October from a smaller area in the South Bronx to assist preserve tempo along with his ballooning exhibition schedule, which in 2021 included solo gallery reveals at Clearing in Brussels and Lisson in New York.

He wended his approach round a tall mass of Bald Cypress tree components sourced from a swamp in Louisiana. One in all these boughs had badly scratched his cornea in November as he was racing to complete carving a sculpture for a museum survey, “Boogey Men,” at the ICA Miami (via April 17).

He has been all through his profession in the thought of mixing into American society. At the ICA Miami, the artist camouflages the floor of a traditional Burberry trench coat with the bark of a tree; solely the collar and distinctive lining peek out. “Burberry is that this luxurious merchandise, a approach of changing into half of a bigger group, with wealth being a approach of accessing that,” Hayden stated.

The artist hangs the piece on a coat stand, with the garment’s arms splayed like a scarecrow. It’s positioned close to his first giant piece fabricated in stainless-steel: a police automobile hooded in a white sheet with cartoonlike holes cutout for eyes. “In case you have the proper look, you received’t have any hassle,” Hayden stated of the pointed juxtaposition between the two works, calling his Burberry coat “virtually an invisibility cloak.”

“The concept tree bark is usually a metaphor for an expertise of pores and skin is one in all the driving themes in the work,” stated Alex Gartenfeld, inventive director of the ICA. “A part of Hugh’s work being anthropomorphic is that it’s relatable. There’s a really human high quality that indicators that the points it’s contending with are about you and me.”

Hayden’s set up of college desks at Madison Sq. Park summons associations for anybody who’s ever sat in a classroom. “Brier Patch” concurrently resembles an orchard and a thicket troublesome to inhabit.

“Education is a part of this street map to the American dream,” he stated. His matrix of branches suggests the boundaries to a path ahead for a lot of younger folks, whether or not from uneven distribution of sources in public colleges or the burden of school pupil loans.

Hayden was drawn to the Nineteenth-century “Uncle Remus” folktale, handed on via oral custom, wherein Br’er Rabbit escapes the jaws of Br’er Fox by navigating one thing seemingly inaccessible; the brier patch truly turns into a haven for the wily rabbit. The artist’s branching desks may very well be a type of perch, conjuring creativity and interconnectedness. “It’s open to the viewer,” he stated, “imagining themselves inside this discovering a seat.”

Education is a topic of deep private significance. Hayden’s dad and mom had been academics in the Dallas Impartial Faculty District and put a premium on his and his brother’s tutorial success. “We needed to give 110 %,” stated the artist, who attended gifted and gifted applications and a rigorous Jesuit highschool.

Whereas inventive, Hayden didn’t know artwork may very well be a profession. Landscaping tasks in his household’s yard pointed him towards structure at Cornell. It wasn’t till he was launched to Derrick Adams at a gap, the first skilled artist he’d met making artwork about up to date life, that he felt impressed to attempt placing his concepts about the world into kind. Hayden’s taxidermied heads of North American buffalo and mountain goats, given a Black identification with the addition of cornrow extensions, received him a residency at Lower Manhattan Community Council in 2011 and set him on a course towards Columbia whereas supporting himself as an architect.

Alex Logsdail, Lisson’s govt director, noticed Hayden’s work at White Columns in 2018, did a studio go to two days later at Columbia and commenced planning Hayden’s first present at Lisson that yr, after he graduated.

“It’s very uncommon to see an artist and be so affected that it’s important to do one thing instantly,” stated Logsdail, who has bought Hayden’s work to the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Whitney Museum.

At the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Hayden approached each his galleries about working collectively on graduate faculty scholarships to make the artwork world extra accessible to folks of coloration. “You both should tackle debt or come from a privileged place,” he stated.

Funded via the sale of his art work at Clearing and donations by a few of Lisson’s administrators, in addition to by Hayden, the Solomon B. Hayden Fellowships — named for the artist’s father, who died in 2014 — will partly assist tuition for 2 Black college students at Columbia, in visible arts and artwork historical past, in perpetuity.

Hayden will assist curate in addition to take part in a bunch exhibition “Black Atlantic,” produced by the Public Artwork Fund and opening in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Might 17. Initially a solo alternative, Hayden requested that “we develop the platform we had supplied him to different younger artists of coloration,” stated Daniel S. Palmer, the curator of the Public Artwork Fund. They chose Leilah Babirye, Dozie Kanu, Tau Lewis and Kiyan Williams to interact with the web site and one another.

Hayden plans to point out “The Gulf Stream,” a wood boat with a whale’s rib cage carved inside. The artist stated he was visually referring to 2 well-known pictures of Black life in America — Winslow Homer’s 1899 painting “The Gulf Stream,” with a Black determine in misery on a ship surrounded by sharks, and Kerry James Marshall’s 2003 response, exhibiting a Black household having fun with crusing .

For Hayden, it’s one other art work that wrestles with previous, current and future in uneasy methods, as “Brier Patch” additionally does. “It’s a narrative of being thrown overboard,” he stated, “and reinterpreting that as a brand new alternative.”

Hugh Hayden: Brier Patch

Opens Jan. 18 via April 24, Madison Sq. Park, Broadway-Madison Ave., between East 23 Road and East 26 Road; (212) 520-7600; madisonsquarepark.org.

Hugh Hayden: Boogey Man

Via April 17, ICA Miami, 305-901-5272; icamiami.org.

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