Brad Kahlhamer’s gallery-filling installation, Bowery Nation, brings together 100 small, figurative sculptures that speak not only of the artist’s Native American roots, but also to his time spent with the vibrant creative community on New York City’s Lower East Side. Kahlhamer began the series in 1985 during a series of fishing trips to the Hudson River Valley, cobbling the doll-like sculptures together out of detritus such as wire, fabric, and rubber found in a local basement workshop.
The collection gradually expanded over the ensuing years, and in 2012 the artist decided to bring the works together on a large table-like construction that resembles the form of the Pow Wow float, the celebratory vehicle that is featured in Pow Wow parades on Native reservations in the American West. Although specific elements of Bowery Nation pointedly reference the katsina doll and other Native American art forms, such as spirit catchers, the work equally reflects Kahlhamer’s early career as a cartoonist and the multicultural milieu of the Bowery, where he has lived since 1990.
A consistent thread in Kahlhamer’s work is identity, or rather the juggling of a tripartite identity: his Native-American heritage, his formative years being raised in a middle-class, German-American family (he was adopted as an infant), and his adulthood in New York’s burgeoning art world of the 1980s and early 90s. Kahlhamer eschews the stereotypical role of Indian as spiritual being, attuned to and more a part of nature, but his art consistently exhibits a spiritual longing and is frequently touched by the animism found in traditional cultures. Firmly grounded in contemporary existential angst, Kahlhamer’s homesickness is as much American as American Indian, reflecting the restlessness (and rootlessness) that has characterized much of American identity.
Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director.
Bowery Nation is accompanied by a wall work made by the artist that narrates the cosmology of his alternative tribe, as well as by the Bowery Nation lounge with reading materials relating to Kahlhamer’s work, katsinas, Native American culture, and New York’s Lower East Side.
Brad Kahlhamer: Bowery Nation is part of united states, a semester of solo exhibitions and artist’s projects that approach both the nature of the United States as a country and “united states” as the notion of uniting separate forms, entities, or conditions of being. Timed to coincide with the 2012 American election season, united states also includes solo exhibitions by Pedro Barbeito, Jonathan Brand, Brody Condon, Brian Knep, Erik Parker, and Hank Willis Thomas, and projects by Jane Benson, Alison Crocetta, Celeste Fichter, Erika Harrsch, Nina Katchadourian, Matthew Northridge, Risa Puno, John Stoney, Sui Jianguo, Frances Trombly, Rosemary Williams, and Jenny Yurshanksy.
Top image: Brad Kahlhamer: Bowery Nation