“Just check out your eyes,” the sculptor Hugh Hayden warned as he circumnavigated the wood college desk he had produced from cedar logs, their branches however hooked up. The limbs erupted from the seat and desktop, in all instructions — weird, unruly, alive.
Hayden, 38, was in the last stages of creation at Showman Fabricators in Bayonne, N.J., completing his most formidable project to date. “Brier Patch,” an art installation opening Jan. 18 in New York’s Madison Sq. Park, assembles 100 recently minted university desks into outdoor “classrooms” throughout four lawns. The premier grouping morphs floor up from an orderly grid of proper-angled chairs into a wild tangle of prospective eye-scratching branches intersecting midair.
“He’s concurrently questioning opportunity and inequity in the American education process,” Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and main curator at the Madison Sq. Park Conservancy, claimed, featuring an interpretation of the “brier patch,” a reference to the fictional Br’er Rabbit stories as perfectly as to a thorny crop of plants. The show opens amid a storm of debates roiling lecture rooms more than curriculum changes addressing systemic racism and no matter whether to remain open up amid the Omicron surge.
Hayden, who is from Dallas, studied architecture at Cornell and labored for a ten years in that industry prior to getting his M.F.A. from Columbia in 2018 and shifting on to a whole-time profession as a sculptor. Performing largely in wood by hand, he reconstructs vernacular objects in the American landscape — a picnic desk, an Adirondack chair, a suburban fence, a college desk — subverting their utility and meaning by giving them human features.
“The objects themselves are in transition in between a cultural item and a purely natural object,” the artist Mark Dion, a professor and mentor to Hayden at Columbia, mentioned of these startling hybrid sorts. “He harkens again to the greatest of the Surrealists like Guy Ray and Meret Oppenheim, exactly where the objects are definitely unsettling. They oscillate in this extremely uncanny earth. It’s a chair and it is not a chair.”
At Showman, Hayden shown how his logs, salvaged from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, are break up and planed into usable planks that however protect their extensive branches, defying common lumber creation. “My wooden is like bone-in chicken, with the foot even — you’re continue to looking at this is a tree,” he said. The consequence appears practically magical however “there’s no smoke and mirrors,” he observed, intrigued in shifting how individuals could possibly feel about an each day piece of wood.
The next working day, the artist, dressed in a camouflage hunting jacket and cap, led his visitor via a capacious new studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, his significant Ibizan hound vying for consideration. Hayden moved right here in October from a scaled-down room in the South Bronx to enable continue to keep speed with his ballooning exhibition routine, which in 2021 provided solo gallery demonstrates at Clearing in Brussels and Lisson in New York.
He wended his way around a tall mass of Bald Cypress tree sections sourced from a swamp in Louisiana. 1 of these boughs had terribly scratched his cornea in November as he was racing to end carving a sculpture for a museum survey, “Boogey Guys,” at the ICA Miami (by April 17).
He has been interested during his vocation in the strategy of blending into American modern society. At the ICA Miami, the artist camouflages the floor of a traditional Burberry trench coat with the bark of a tree only the collar and distinct lining peek out. “Burberry is this luxury item, a way of turning into section of a bigger team, with wealth getting a way of accessing that,” Hayden said.
The artist hangs the piece on a coat stand, with the garment’s arms splayed like a scarecrow. It is positioned in close proximity to his initial massive piece fabricated in stainless metal: a police motor vehicle hooded in a white sheet with cartoonlike holes cutout for eyes. “If you have the right seem, you won’t have any difficulties,” Hayden claimed of the pointed juxtaposition among the two operates, calling his Burberry coat “almost an invisibility cloak.”
“The strategy that tree bark can be a metaphor for an practical experience of pores and skin is just one of the driving themes in the get the job done,” explained Alex Gartenfeld, artistic director of the ICA. “Part of Hugh’s do the job becoming anthropomorphic is that it is relatable. There is a incredibly human high-quality that alerts that the troubles it’s contending with are about you and me.”
Hayden’s set up of college desks at Madison Sq. Park summons associations for anyone who’s ever sat in a classroom. “Brier Patch” concurrently resembles an orchard and a thicket challenging to inhabit.
“Education is part of this highway map to the American dream,” he reported. His matrix of branches indicates the limitations to a route ahead for numerous younger persons, regardless of whether from uneven distribution of sources in public faculties or the stress of faculty university student financial loans.
Hayden was drawn to the 19th-century “Uncle Remus” folktale, passed on by oral tradition, in which Br’er Rabbit escapes the jaws of Br’er Fox by navigating a thing seemingly inaccessible the brier patch in fact results in being a haven for the wily rabbit. The artist’s branching desks could be a variety of perch, conjuring creativeness and interconnectedness. “It’s open up to the viewer,” he reported, “imagining them selves in just this acquiring a seat.”
Education and learning is a issue of deep private significance. Hayden’s dad and mom were academics in the Dallas Independent Faculty District and set a high quality on his and his brother’s academic success. “We experienced to give 110 per cent,” mentioned the artist, who attended gifted and talented courses and a rigorous Jesuit substantial school.
Although artistic, Hayden did not know artwork could be a job. Landscaping assignments in his family’s backyard pointed him toward architecture at Cornell. It was not right up until he was released to Derrick Adams at an opening, the initially professional artist he’d met building artwork about present-day life, that he felt motivated to try placing his concepts about the earth into sort. Hayden’s taxidermied heads of North American buffalo and mountain goats, provided a Black id with the addition of cornrow extensions, received him a residency at Lessen Manhattan Neighborhood Council in 2011 and established him on a study course toward Columbia when supporting himself as an architect.
Alex Logsdail, Lisson’s government director, observed Hayden’s get the job done at White Columns in 2018, did a studio pay a visit to two days later on at Columbia and commenced scheduling Hayden’s first present at Lisson that calendar year, soon after he graduated.
“It’s incredibly uncommon to see an artist and be so impacted that you have to do anything instantly,” claimed Logsdail, who has offered Hayden’s perform to the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Whitney Museum.
At the top of the Black Life Subject protests in 2020, Hayden approached the two his galleries about operating together on graduate faculty scholarships to make the artwork entire world additional obtainable to people today of coloration. “You possibly have to get on debt or arrive from a privileged situation,” he said.
Funded by the sale of his artwork at Clearing and donations by some of Lisson’s directors, as properly as by Hayden, the Solomon B. Hayden Fellowships — named for the artist’s father, who died in 2014 — will partly guidance tuition for two Black learners at Columbia, in visual arts and art background, in perpetuity.
Hayden will assist curate as effectively as participate in a team exhibition “Black Atlantic,” created by the Public Artwork Fund and opening in Brooklyn Bridge Park on May possibly 17. At first a solo option, Hayden asked for that “we increase the system we experienced offered him to other youthful artists of color,” claimed Daniel S. Palmer, the curator of the Public Art Fund. They chosen Leilah Babirye, Dozie Kanu, Tau Lewis and Kiyan Williams to engage with the web site and each individual other.
Hayden strategies to exhibit “The Gulf Stream,” a picket boat with a whale’s rib cage carved inside. The artist reported he was visually referring to two popular photos of Black lifetime in The usa — Winslow Homer’s 1899 painting “The Gulf Stream,” with a Black figure in distress on a boat surrounded by sharks, and Kerry James Marshall’s 2003 reaction, showing a Black loved ones making the most of sailing .
For Hayden, it is an additional artwork that wrestles with past, present and long term in uneasy methods, as “Brier Patch” also does. “It’s a tale of getting thrown overboard,” he stated, “and reinterpreting that as a new opportunity.”
Hugh Hayden: Brier Patch
Opens Jan. 18 by way of April 24, Madison Sq. Park, Broadway-Madison Ave., concerning East 23 Avenue and East 26 Road (212) 520-7600 madisonsquarepark.org.
Hugh Hayden: Boogey Gentleman
By April 17, ICA Miami, 305-901-5272 icamiami.org.