Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World
Multi-talented Native American artist Jimmy Durham is finally getting his due, with a major retrospective that is showing in museums across the country. Currently on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the exhibit will move east, with stops at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and ending at the Whitney Museum in New York.
Artist, performer, poet, essayist, and activist, Jimmie Durham, who was born in Arkansas in1940, is one of the most compelling, inventive, and multifaceted artists working internationally today. For American audiences, however, he has been an elusive figure. After studying art in Geneva and working for the American Indian Movement for several years, Durham became an active participant in the vibrant New York City downtown art scene in the 1980s. There, he staged solo exhibitions and participated in group shows at such noteworthy nonprofit venues as Artists Space, Exit Art, and Judson Memorial Church. Many of these early exhibitions sought to bring visibility to artists of color or were organized around the most urgent political concerns of the day, including racism, Apartheid, and the US government’s interventions in Central America. Durham was a committed advocate for other artists as executive director of the Foundation of the Community of Artists, where he helped edit the newspaper Art and Artists, and as a curator and writer. In 1987 Durham chose to leave the United States with his partner, artist Maria Thereza Alves, moving first to Cuernavaca, Mexico, and then to Europe, where they have lived since 1994.
Since moving to Europe more than twenty years ago, Durham has largely chosen not to exhibit his work in the United States. The artist’s reasons are personal, political, and practical. But his work echoes and resonates with American history, slavery, repression and racism.
Durham was a significant figure during the 1980s and 1990s, b recognizing the work of women and artists of color, and artists who embraced multiculturalism and “identity politics.”
In the current exhibit, Durham’s works bring a crucial understanding of the history of American art as well as underscoring the importance for American artists to be “to participate on an international playing field.
The first retrospective of Durham’s work to take place in North America, At the Center of the World reestablishes the importance of his career, projecting it into present-day discussions about the interplay between the local and the global, between art and activism, and reminding us of the history of sculpture as a medium that is entwined with everyday life.
Durham’s work is process-driven sculptural assemblage, which can take the form of a small wall relief, a human-scale freestanding sculpture, or a room-size installation. Combining natural elements with manufactured objects, much of it discarded or found and reanimated by the artist, these works question ingrained hierarchies of materials and mediums as well as the modernist preoccupation with originality and artistic bravery.
With close to 200 objects dating from 1970 to the present and accompanied by a catalogue comprising several scholarly essays, an interview with the artist, a chronology, and a selection of his own writings, the exhibition traces Durham’s ongoing use of materials such as bone, stone, and wood, while also demonstrating his commitment to shedding light on the complexities of historical narratives, notions of authenticity, and the borders and boundaries that contain us. Jimmie Durham is arguably one of the most important artists working actively in the international contemporary art scene today.
Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World, is on view at the Hammer Museum until May 7. It moves to the Walker Museum from August 25 until November 19, and then to the Whiney Museum in New York where it will be on view from late November 2017—January 2018. A beautiful and insightful catalog by Anne Ellegood, with contributions from several other scholars, has been published in association with the Hammer Museum by DelMonico Books ($60).