Laumeier Sculpture Park is proud to announce American Vernacular, Hugh Hayden’s first museum survey exploring a decade of his work in a variety of mediums, including newly commissioned works. The exhibition will be on view from Feb. 10 through May 12 in the Aronson Fine Arts Center’s Whitaker Foundation Gallery and in the Outdoor Galleries near The Way Field.
Hayden’s vision draws from his personal memory and experience as an American and African American, born and raised in Texas. Growing up Black and gay in the South, and later training and working for a decade as an architect before becoming an artist, Hayden’s work merges organic materials with built space and draws on folk and fine art vocabularies to capture various aspects of the artist’s personal biography and lived experiences.
Hayden often takes forms from everyday objects and reconstructs them, creating sculptures out of wood and other natural materials that become proxies for critical cultural issues. He draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including popular culture, traditional crafts and storytelling.
Hayden’s artworks also engage with unseen threats of domestic life or the ideals and inequities that cut across racial lines in the U.S. The artist often grapples with an uncomfortable reckoning between the promise of the American Dream, the persistence of “bootstrap” ideology and the mythmaking around progress. He also examines the tensions between the enticing lure of social aspiration and the hard realities of inequity.
The artist has stated, “All of my work is about the American dream, whether it’s a table where one struggles to sit or a thorny school desk. It’s a dream that is seductive, but difficult to inhabit.”
The artworks presented in American Vernacular generally refer to distinct types of public and private spaces, featuring the artist’s take on the trappings of these locations. For example, sculptures made from cast iron pans evoke home kitchens; elaborately decorated basketball backboards and hoops and helmets suggest sports fields and courts; and a row of church pews facing a neon “altar” evokes places of worship.
Many works show Hayden’s embrace of the Surrealist approach of combining materials that would not ordinarily be merged to create unexpected or even jarring sights, such as covering a cap in tree bark or weaving a basketball hoop out of hair.
Outdoors, in a wooded area selected by the artist, Hayden has created a schoolroom with a selection from the installation Brier Patch. Sixteen traditional wooden schoolhouse seat/desk combinations are arranged into four rows, as we would expect to find them in a classroom; however, their surfaces unexpectedly erupt into an impenetrable tangle of tree branches. In this work, Hayden suggests that the educational system that is supposed to serve and nurture all children might in fact be scarier and harder to navigate for some.
Brier Patch debuted at Laumeier Sculpture Park in early November 2023, in advance of the rest of the exhibition.