Page 1


Jessica Jackson Hutchins: Unicorn Curated by Amy Smith-Stewart April 6 to September 21, 2014

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Jessica Jackson Hutchins: Unicorn

Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son, Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding, No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them, No more modest than immodest.

Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs! -Walt Whitman1

In these times of great technological expansion, with the ever-increasing infiltration of social media—a juggernaut of “selfies” and “tweets”—we find ourselves connected to those we know, those we may only know through a hazy daisy chain of associations, and those we don’t really know at all. It is this multi-tiered matrix of “connections” that gives us a superficial hunger for intimacy with so many people. However, artists unconditionally impart something that is intimately connected to them, in exchange for a means of unraveling how human relations (and their circumstantial baggage) shape us. In doing so, they transform the familiar into something exceptional, make the indefinable understandable.

ADAM (with Pink Flowers), 2010 Private collection, New York Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Taylor Gallery, London Photo courtesy of Laurel Gitlen, New York

This negotiation between the being and the becoming is where Jessica Jackson Hutchins situates her practice. Robert Rauschenberg, who pioneered revolutionary methods of making art, states: “Painting relates to both art and life...(I try to act in that gap between the two).”2 Similarly, Hutchins explains her methodology as “transformation, evidence of work, accidents, the time contained in the humanity of the objects—all that stuff is crucial to get at what I’m trying to get at, which is ways of connecting to the world, ways of knowing ourselves through the things we encounter.”3   The interviews I have read and the conversations I’ve shared with Hutchins over the past several months have all orbited the significance of those around her and the “things” they

share; an evolving history of the stuff accumulated and the layering of the histories of these individual objects to obfuscate time and matter.4 Hutchins emphasizes that her work, spanning sculpture, prints, drawing, video and film, “...comes right out of my life, is sort of about regular life, and also about how extravagant it is to take that on.”5 This diaristic compulsion is reminiscent of the inestimable Swiss artist Dieter Roth, in particular his epic video installation Solo Scenes (1997–98). This twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week record of the final year of the artist’s life captures the most mundane and the most revelatory moments, intertwining the extraordinary with the ordinary. Hutchins (like Roth) shows us that an artist is unmistakably human, but it is these very human experiences that feed creative expression. Moreover, it is the undeniable insistence on making use of what’s around her—the worn clothing, tattered chairs, nicked tables, stained sofas—to craft objects that invent poetry out of the everyday, that unite the corporeal with the abstract, the relatable with the enigmatic.    At The Aldrich, Hutchins brings together sculpture, monoprints, and a video initially exhibited at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in 2010, alongside a new, large-scale sculpture. 

Finale (detail), 2011 Collection of Lisa Roumell and Mark Rosenthal Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Taylor Gallery, London Photo courtesy of Laurel Gitlen, New York

Hutchins’s video portrait, Children of the Sunshine (2010), presents what at first appears to be a home video. A happy and unmistakably creative circle of family and close friends make art together, but as the music fades and the day burns away, the chaos and the banality that fuel the magic dissipate. This necessary denouement might be where the “gap” that Rauschenberg refers to exists: in the shady grey area that oscillates between art and life, fueling the imagination. What Hutchins’s video shows us is that the raw emotive rhythm of daily life is fleeting, generating a craving, a yearning for a deeper awareness about how we are informed by our interactions.  

In Unicorn and The Key (2010), Hutchins’s own baby grand piano, a quintessential symbol of family-circle time passed down from a generation before her, stands at center stage. A phallic ceramic form evocative of a unicorn’s horn or elephant’s tusk stands erect on top. The piano’s exterior is etched, routed, gashed and graffitied, tracing both her method and the means for making several large-scale woodcut and collaged prints. The piano’s keys are colorfully stained, residue of the acrylic bleed from the pressing of these prints against its pock-marked and scratched surface. A large key is carved into the piano bench lid and an unruly ceramic form (perhaps a collar or a carcass) has been tucked awkwardly inside, never to fit in. Hutchins’s build up and break down of a beloved family heirloom permits us entry into sites both domestic and faraway. The objects added and the holes and marks left on the finish are re-traced in the to-scale prints. In ADAM (with Pink Flowers) (2010), the title of the video and its repeating melody, Children of the Sunshine, reads in reverse (mirroring the words etched into the lid). For Finale (2011), the areas removed when Hutchins sculpted into the baby grand are recycled back in as collaged wood cut-outs, pasted near their corresponding absences. For the bench prints, such as Key!! (2010), Hutchins, using ink, placed the paper (bench scale) onto the incised surface, later adding collaged elements made from paper pulp, giving a two-dimensional plane depth. Motherhood runs like a deep vein through Hutchins’s recent practice and as the video plays on a loop it channels music’s alleged primal origins as a playful mode of “motherese.”8 

Children of the Sunshine (video still), 2010 Musicians: Kersti Werdal, Dana Dart McClean, Stephen Malkmus, Brian Mumford Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

Children of the Sunshine Fade IN. INT. - Family Room - Early Afternoon Day    A jam session around the living room piano. Friends and family become an impromptu musical ensemble: two guitarists, a flutist, a pianist. Toddler stands on piano shaking a maraca. Mother stands nearby with a recorder. A young child darts in and out with a toy drum. Another child enters with stuffed toy unicorn and plastic microphone. An improvisational chorus singing on repeat: “we are children of the sunshine.”    INT. - Play Room - Late Afternoon Day    An unclothed toddler dances and shakes a toy maraca. Mother and father (come in and out of frame) enter intermittently. Background music fades.    INT. - Stairwell - Dusk Two children run up the stairs.   Music ends.    THE END.   If these fragments of a day in the life sound familiar, it is their very ordinariness that is woven up into the material that Hutchins so energetically transposes. Errant scraps of the banal life are delicately impressed into and onto an elaborate choreography of homespun circumstance and complex abstract poetry. She describes the catalyst for her process as an editing of sorts: editing what’s around the room,6 forging a connectivity with the personal, in order to destabilize/disrupt it; employing a “by-any means-necessary”7 strategy to impart to the routine a surreptitious multivalence. By inserting objects—ceramic glazed and unglazed, or papier mâché, unequivocally hand molded—into and onto recognizable found items (Hutchins’s studio is above a used furniture store) to look like body parts (limbs, heads, torsos, horns, collar bones) or bestow them with anthropomorphic identities (frumpy, sinewy, idle, indifferent, absurd), Hutchins uses abject humor to tenderize her objects/subjects, to humanize art and process, (un)making the sincere and the feigned.  

In fact, the soundtrack was later pressed as a single on an independent record produced by her two young daughters and their uncle. Even so, the works ultimately transcend their quotidian beginnings as they uplift us—like music—to implausible places outside the realm of the here and now. Hutchins’s sculpture recalls Joseph Beuys’s Homogenous Infiltration for Grand Piano (1966), a baby grand piano wrapped in his signature felt. Beuys attempted to smother sound while Hutchins disavows the instrument of any harmonic capability through an intensive process of reduction and augmentation. Simultaneously an autonomous sculpture, extravagant pedestal, and printing press, the object’s meaning is destabilized by Hutchins so as to eclipse its singular destiny. The physicality of Hutchins’s alterations recalls the collaborative Allora & Calzadilla’s Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano (2008), a performance-based sculpture. There, the artists carved a large hole into a C. Bechstein grand piano, permitting a classical pianist to play one of Beethoven’s most celebrated compositions, “Ode to Joy,” from within it while moving with the music around the gallery. Here, Hutchins’s melody is homegrown, but the proximity of the video further memorializes this grand instrument as the home centerpiece, and the simple, repeated chant transmits echoes of a presence suspended.   Every Man Has his Tastes (2013–14), Hutchins’s newest sculpture, takes its title from a line in a poem by the Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Bai Juyi, excerpted below: Twin-peak stones, blue in color, Are odd and ugly in shape. They are no good for worldly use And people would not collect them.  ...And a cup of wine is placed on the right. The wine has not yet been drunk, For the Jade Hill has long collapsed. Every man has his tastes And every object seeks its own partner... The stones, though unable to speak, Promised to remain my faithful friends.9 Hutchins stumbled upon the poem while working on the sculpture in her Portland studio. The dowdy and distressed denim chair and ottoman bear ceramic objects that rest atop or are

Jessica Jackson Hutchins: Children of the Sunshine, 2010 (Installation detail, Human Being, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, TBA 10) Photo by Dan Kvitka, Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

tucked inside the furniture. Upon the homely ottoman rests a craggy, stout, glossy clay form, a cross between a termite mound and a scholar’s rock (she’s had a longtime fondness for such viewing stones since attending an exhibition at the Met10). The letters ALRM wind around it in relief and an unspectacular mug and two bowls are fired directly into it. Like a dugup fossil or moon rock specimen, Hutchins flattens time’s passage, compressing the distant and the far-off. The appearance of the inscription is inspired by Islamic ceramics Hutchins encountered at the Pergamon Museum during a two-year sojourn in Berlin. She describes the choice to use those particular letters as “purely formal...I like Ls and Ms because of my family members’ names, and I like A because it is first, R because it is a complicated form.”11 Hutchins studied art history at Oberlin, so her interest in image/object analysis gives her work cultural grounding. The earthy tones of the ceramic glaze appear to bleed onto the ottoman and chair, but Hutchins applied paint to create this visual continuity, marrying the objects forever to the furniture. Tucked inside the sagging chair cushion is a bowl-like clay form that rests comfortably in its crease, perhaps a stand-in for the Chinese scholar meditating on the weird elegance of this awkward mass squatting before him.  A unicorn is a supreme mythological being, a forest creature of extraterrestrial poise and virtue. From ancient times, man sought out this graceful fantastical beast for its enchanted horn, believed to cure affliction. The unicorn horn, a reappearing motif in Hutchins’s oeuvre, represents the merging of the realm of fantasy with the uncomely run-of-the-mill life. At The Aldrich, Hutchins confronts us with a pregnant visual language that shoots us way up into the star-crossed cosmos and grounds us down into the depths of the dark earth—all at the same time. Amy Smith-Stewart Curator Jessica Jackson Hutchins was born in 1971 in Chicago, Illinois, and lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

Works in the Exhibition All dimensions h x w x d in inches ADAM (with Pink Flowers), 2010 Monoprint, paper pulp, collage, mixed media on paper 65 x 66 Private collection, New York

Unicorn and The Key, 2010 Piano, bench, glazed ceramic, printing ink Piano with horn: 75 x 57 x 54 Bench: 26 ¼ x 27 ¾ x 18

Children of the Sunshine, 2010 Video, color, sound: 13:28 minutes Musicians: Kersti Werdal, Dana Dart McClean, Stephen Malkmus, Brian Mumford

Untitled, 2010 Collage and oil pastel on paper 21 ¾ x 18

KEY!!, 2010 Monoprint, paper pulp, ink on paper 32 x 23 Two i’s on Key, 2010 Monoprint, paper pulp, collage on paper 23 x 32

Finale, 2011 Monoprint with acrylic, oil pastel, wood 82 x 54 x 1 ½ Collection of Lisa Roumell and Mark Rosenthal Every Man Has His Tastes, 2013–14 Chair and ottoman, glazed ceramic, ceramic objects, paint 75 x 35 x 39 Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Taylor Gallery, London


Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1973), p. 52.


The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999), p. 207.


Stuart Horodner, “Jessica Jackson Hutchins,” BOMB Magazine, Summer 2010.


Hutchins made a site visit to The Aldrich in September 2013; I traveled to Portland in October 2013 to visit her studio.


Horodner, “Jessica Jackson Hutchins.”


Kristine Kennedy, “Interview: Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Children of the Sunshine,” Human Beings, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art.


“500 Words: Jessica Jackson Hutchins,”, July 2009.


Myles Gough, Cosmos Online. “The origin of music”:, March 3, 2011.


Poem found in Kemin Hu, Scholars’ Rocks in Ancient China: The Suyuan Stone Catalogue, (Orchid Press, May 2003), p. 56.

10 Horodner, “Jessica Jackson Hutchins.”

Jessica Jackson Hutchins: Children of the Sunshine, 2010 (Installation detail, Human Being, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, TBA 10) Photo by Dan Kvitka, Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

11 Email correspondence with the artist on January 10, 2014.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum advances creative thinking by connecting today’s artists with individuals and communities in unexpected and stimulating ways.

Board of Trustees Eric G. Diefenbach, Chairman; Linda M. Dugan, Vice-Chairman; William Burback, Treasurer/Secretary; Chris Doyle; Annabelle K. Garrett; Georganne Aldrich Heller, Honorary Trustee; Neil Marcus; Kathleen O’Grady; Lori L. Ordover; Peter Robbins; Martin Sosnoff, Trustee Emeritus; John Tremaine

Larry Aldrich (1906–2001), Founder

Major support for Museum operations has been provided by members of The Aldrich Board of Trustees and by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation.

Every Man Has His Tastes, 2013–14 Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

258 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877 Tel 203.438.4519, Fax 203.438.0198,

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum: Jessica Jackson Hutchins: Unicorn  

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum: Jessica Jackson Hutchins: Unicorn Brochure

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you