Jimmie Durham’s new retrospective – the first in his native America for 22 years – has just opened to high acclaim. Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World, at LA’s Hammer Museum not only drew great reviews, but also opening-night visits and praise from a notable group of artists and collectors, including Charles Gaines, Liz Glynn, Tacita Dean and Andrea Fraser.
Fellow sculptor and contemporary Judy Chicago also praised his work in an accompanying New York Times feature. “Instead of overinflated, overhyped, oversized installations passing as art, Jimmie Durham’s work is authentic, modest and funny,” Judy Chicago told the paper after seeing the show. “Plus he has the most uncanny sensitivity to materials.”
The Hammer echoed these sentiments, highlighting how Durham’s work “meaningfully connected to important activities, movements, and genres of American art since the 1980s – including assemblage using found objects, appropriation of text and image, institutional critique, the politics of representation, performance art –and, moreover, to the colonial history and political struggles of the country.”
Durham was born into a Cherokee Indian family in 1940, studied in Geneva, and formed part of New York’s early 1980s scene, leaving the city in 1987, because, he tells the times, “I didn’t want to be judged by my monetary success. I didn’t want to be a part of the American dream.”
He also doesn’t like to be bracketed as a Native American artist, or even sculptor whose work can be viewed biographically. However, the Times profile places some emphasis on the artist’s father, a construction worker and tool fanatic who made his own furniture.
“Wood and stone have long been the mainstays of his sculpture,” explains the paper’s Jori Finkel. “Found animal skulls, painted in bright colours or encrusted with beads or stones, prove another important medium, with the skulls of an armadillo, skunk, dog and moose appearing in the Hammer show.”
Durham now lives in Naples, and hasn’t visited the US since 1995. Illness prevented Durham from attending the opening of his LA show, yet that hasn’t prevented him from gaining admirers in the US and elsewhere.
“I consider him to be one of the most important American sculptors today, alongside David Hammons, and yet because he moved to Europe, he’s not really put into that category,” Anne Ellegood, the Hammer’s curator, told the Times.
To find out more about an important, yet slightly overlooked US artist order a copy of our new Contemporary Artist Series book dedicated to Jimmie Durham here.