Art Review

Ann Hamilton: soundings at Robischon Gallery

Performance art, which has been around since the early twentieth century, is pointedly non-commercial because it's so ephemeral. It literally comes and goes with little remaining but memories -- and a few photos and props. It's the opposite of object-based art and has as much or more to do with music or theater than it does with the visual arts. That's why the form is more often found at festivals than in galleries.

But leave it to Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran, the keepers of Robischon Gallery (1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788,, to courageously take the economic risks inherent in promoting this difficult medium with Ann Hamilton: soundings. This impressive solo is devoted to the work of a legendary performance artist who's been at it for nearly thirty years. Hamilton, who earned an MFA at Yale in 1985, quickly became one of the most important performance and conceptual artists of her generation. She even showed up on Art: 21, the PBS television series about contemporary art that aired a couple of years ago -- but don't hold that against her.

The show at Robischon is beautiful, bringing together installations, fragments of installations, photos of performances and a non-narrative DVD. There's a found camera obscura that takes panoramic pinhole photos with one of the images hanging above it. Other photos include several from her "body object" series, where Hamilton is seen in various costumes, such as "body object #18 4/15" (pictured). These photos were originally taken in the 1980s, but Hamilton created a new edition of them in 2006.

Among the most striking things are the two "phora" kinetic sculptures, which are composed of a pair of sousaphone bells with sound mechanisms in them that are joined together by a felt bellows. They hang from bungee cords attached to chain-driven motors on the ceiling that allow them to constantly rotate. The sousaphone sculptures, along with a pair of color iris prints of faces, were originally part of an enormous stage set created for a performance.

The Hamilton show comes down Saturday, November 15.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia