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"Directions: Tim Hawkinson"
2001-03-16 until 2001-07-01
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington, DC, USA

Directions: Tim Hawkinson, an exhibition introducing the singular vision of this American artist (b. 1960) with eight mixed-media sculptures and three works on paper, opened on Thursday, March 15, at the Smithsonianís Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue at 7th Street S.W. The show continues through July 1.

Hawkinson's diverse works to be shown, all dating from the 1990s, encompass a tiny sculptural ensemble of a bird, feather and egg; found-object constructions employing mechanization and manufactured sound, and a 4-foot high, 33-foot-long suspended drawing executed in red ink.

Quirky materials, salient titles and subtle allusions to time and the figure create an intriguing, incongruous world of possibilities, says the Hirshhorn's curator of sculpture Valerie Fletcher, who organized the exhibition. Deadpan humor and philosophical contemplation are offered in equal measure in Hawkinsonís art. Experiencing it is like stepping into a visual and intellectual playground.

Fletcher, whose essay appears in a free, illustrated exhibition brochure, will present a gallery talk at 12:30 p.m. on the opening date (March 15) in the Directions space, third floor. No admission is charged.

A San Francisco native now based in Los Angeles, Hawkinson has worked in the latter city's downtown garment district since the mid-1980s, when he earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. Scientific curiosity and a tinkererís mentality have long fueled his vision; discarded items from the street are his chief materials.

Increasingly recognized outside of California, Hawkinson participated in the Venice Biennale of 1999 and had solo museum shows in Cincinnati, Toronto and North Adams, Mass., between 1996 and 2000. The Hirshhorn exhibition is his first major presentation in this area.

Two works on view move or make sound, sending wry messages about contemporary society. Ranting Mophead, 1995, consists of a standing mop-figure, amid electrical wires, that murmurs sound-synthesized nonsense phrases while facing a podium. In Signature, 1993, a clunky machine on a school desk signs the artistís name again and again onto pieces of paper that accumulate on the floor.

Wall Chart of World History from Earliest Times to the Present, 1997, the aforementioned monumental drawing, uses compressed white-red tubular patterns resembling a neural network or intestinal tract to comment on the turbulence of humanity. Nearby, the pens used to make the drawing double as blood vessels within the sculpture Index (Finger), 1997, which realistically depicts a chopped off, soccer ball-size fingertip to satirize artistic angst.

A sense of toil and time also infuses H.M.S.O, 1995. The hanging sculpture resembles a wheel with spokes or a clock with multiple second hands, but the literal imagery -- miniature sailing-ship masts emerging from a circular hull -- invokes history, childhood and a host of other themes. In the creature-like Rootball, 1999, fabricated roots emerge from a sawed-off trunk with visible time rings, inviting ruminations on a fragile ecosystem.

Hawkinson's brand of self-portraiture -- homespun yet scientific -- is seen in such works as Bathtub-Generated Contour Lace, 1995, a life-size, calligraphic ink drawing replicating changing water levels on his body in a filling tub, and Humongolous, 1995, an acrylic painting of a distorted, flat nude figure based on a grid the artist mapped of his lower body. The bird-egg-feather tableau is made of materials actually shed from Hawkinson's body -- fingernail clippings and hair, combined with glue.

To some, says Fletcher, this would suggest the holism of the universe; to others, it can be admired simply as a clever and effective use of materials. Whatever the case, it is clear that, fundamentally, Hawkinson's art is about exploration. His work traverses the realm of ideas and the material world to help us understand human nature and the transience of existence.


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