Hugh Hayden / Creation Myths

Hugh Hayden (American, born 1983), America, 2018. Sculpted mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) on plywood. Private collection. © Hugh Hayden, Courtesy Lisson GalleryFor his site-responsive exhibition Creation Myths at Bainbridge House, the artist Hugh Hayden created four distinct but interconnected spaces—a kitchen, dining room, study, and  classroom—that together craft a narrative that is part fiction, part history. Originally from Dallas, Texas, and now based in New York City, Hayden trained as an architect before returning to his long-held interest in fine art, which led him to pursue an MFA at Columbia University (2018). For the project in historic Bainbridge House, Hayden notes, “I wanted to create a very specific experience of going through the exhibition, playing on the status of this as a domestic space.”

Hayden has said that each of the rooms represents the idea of creating something new out of historical antecedents. For the kitchen, he has made cast-iron skillets that feature images of African masks found in the Art Museum’s collections and artifacts from other cultures that have a dialogue with Africa. These works, he says, “grew from the idea of Southern food—with its African American, even slave, origins—being the only true American food. It’s presumable that some form of cast-iron cookware was used in the early days of Bainbridge House.”

For America (2018)—the table and four chairs in the dining room setting—Hayden used the wood of mesquite trees, often considered an unwanted weed, that he harvested near the US-Mexico border, in Laredo, Texas. The work speaks to ideas of home, family, and equal access to the American dream. In the study, Hayden reinvents an arcade claw-machine—a game in which the player tries to grab a toy with a metal claw—by outfitting the glass case with mirrors and filling it with cotton, rather than toys. “The sense of endlessness created by the infinity mirror references the industrial-like project of picking cotton, that quintessential act of slave labor.” The classroom features Hayden’s Brier Patch (2018), a set of school desks sculpted from discarded Christmas trees intended to evoke connections between “the idea of the classroom, of education, as providing a safe space to build a foundation and grow,” and the story of Brother Rabbit by Uncle Remus. In the tale, thought to have evolved from African folklore, Brother Rabbit finds refuge from the fox in a seemingly inhospitable briar patch that he can nonetheless navigate.

Alex Bacon
Curatorial Associate

Art@Bainbridge is made possible through the generous support of the Kathleen C. Sherrerd Program Fund in American Art; Stacey Roth Goergen, Class of 1990, and Robert B. Goergen; and Jonathan Golden, Class of 1959, and Roberta Pritzker Golden. We are also grateful to Lisson Gallery, London, New York, and Shanghai, and CLEARING, New York and Brussels, for their support of this exhibition.