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Hugh Hayden unveils a group of new, monumental works at ICA Miami this winter, on view from November 30, 2021, through April 17, 2022. The sculpture pieces engage with scale and material while addressing themes of history and race. The New York–based artist is known for his adept use of materials like wood, explored further in this show through the branch and tree itself.
The artistic director of ICA Miami, Alex Gartenfeld, shared more with Whitewaller about Hayden’s process.
WHITEWALLER: What was the starting point for “Boogey Men”?
ALEX GARTENFELD: This is a major institutional platform for rapidly emerging artist Hugh Hayden, and the exhibition will tour subsequent venues. Thus, the starting point for “Boogey Men” was to introduce Hugh’s incredible and unique way of interpreting themes of identity through his expert manipulation of material.
WW: Can you tell us about the title work in the show, Boogey Man, and how that anchors the exhibition?
AG: The title of the show is “Boogey Men,” spelled in a slightly unique way to create a confusion as to whether it’s referencing a kind of monstrous or ominous theme, or a kind of bourgeois experience. Hugh is an expert at mining this territory. One new work coats a Burberry trench coat with tree bark and sets it atop a frame like a scarecrow.
The eponymous work, Boogey Man, is one of Hugh’s most ambitious to date, and his first to monumentally fabricate out of stainless steel. It is a police vehicle draped in a white sheet, with cutout eyes. The effect is horrific, and a poignant testament to white supremacy in American institutions. It is also, in Hugh’s hands, conveyed with a cartoonish quality, and an approachability and anthropomorphism that adds layers and resonance to the work.
WW: How do works like Roots and Soul Food showcase how the artist is able to work across mediums?
AG: Soul Food is like a monumental, tiered chandelier, from which a dozen bronze pans (affixed with casts of the artist’s face as well as artifactual objects) and copper-plated musical instruments hang. It comes to life as a jazz band, a parade of expression and public articulation. The resulting work is a triumph of the artist’s dexterity with metalwork and his interest in design, as well as his powers with narrative and form.
WW: Wood is one he continues to return to, however. How will we see the artist continuing to explore this material?
AG: One work in the exhibition called Roots (2021) is a particularly potent example of Hugh continuing to explore wood as a medium. Hugh not only manipulates the material in interesting ways, but his approach to sourcing creates additional layers of meaning. Made of bald cypress trees, Roots is covered in branches protruding in every direction and references the family tree, among other themes. He sourced the bald cypress trees from Louisiana, where his mother grew up and where he visited frequently in his youth. The work ultimately reflects his personal history as well as a more universal idea of the history and identity of Louisiana, expressed through the bald cypress tree, which is synonymous with the Gulf region.