Behind the Scenes at the DAM

5 Things You Can Learn from Artist Brad Kahlhamer

Note: Brad Kahlhamer is the Logan Lecture speaker on Wednesday, May 21.

1. Scavenging skills

Brad Kahlhamer made Bowery Nation, a large-scale installation composed of some 100 katsina figures, from detritus he found in the Hudson River Valley and on the streets of the Lower East Side and other New York City neighborhoods. The artist has expert scavenging abilities—a good eye and, allegedly, a willingness to pick up pigeon feathers.

2. Contemporary stereotypes of American Indians

Born to a Native-American mother and subsequently adopted and raised by German-American parents, Kahlhamer has spent his life exploring his ambiguous ancestry. Neither “outside” nor “in,” as he’s never registered with a particular tribe but has engaged with tribes around the country, Kahlhamer has learned about American-Indian traditions, contemporary culture, and stereotypes at powwows, reservations, and anthropological museums, and on road trips around the US.

3. What a katsina is

After a visit to the Heard Museum, in Phoenix, in the 1980s, Kahlhamer began making katsinam like the small Hopi figurines he saw at the museum. Traditionally, katsina figures represent the spiritual beings of the Pueblo tribes’ cosmology. As each deity is unique, so too are the figurines that signify them; each wooden figure is made distinct with paint, feathers, beads, buttons, and other materials. The “dolls,” as they have been dubbed by Westerners, have become popular souvenirs for tourists who visit the Southwest. Kahlhamer created a “tribe” of katsinam that references traditional Hopi beings and talismans, like those at the Heard, as well as the commodification and commercialization of the figures.

4. How to moonlight as a rock star

Kahlhamer’s rock-star cool is legit: he is a musician in his own right. He sings, plays guitar, and writes music. References to his musical career crop up in his artworks, such as the tower of speakers that stands at the bottom of Eagle Claws (2001). Kahlhamer has also integrated his recordings into exhibitions of his work in the past.

5. What it’s like to flow with Jay-Z

Kahlhamer was one of the art-world insiders who attended Jay-Z’s daylong performance of “Picasso Baby” at Pace Gallery last year. Kahlhamer isn’t the only crossover artist in Chelsea. 

Image credits:  (Above) Brad Kahlhamer, American Horse, 2014. Acrylic, ink, spray paint, and pencil on bed sheet. 94 1/2 x 72 1/2 inches. 103 x 81 3/4 x 2 inches framed. © Brad Kahlhamer. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. (Below) Brad Kahlhamer, Eagle Claws, 2001. Oil on canvas, 122 x 84 in. Purchase, department acquisition funds. 2001.483. ©  Brad Kahlhamer. Eagle Claws (2001) is on display on level 3 of the Hamilton Building through the end of 2014.  

 

Zoe Larkins is the curatorial assistant for contemporary art at the DAM. She's excited for Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective to open on July 13. She says you shouldn't miss the three-dimensional maquettes that Wesselmann made as studies for his large sculptural works that will be in the show.