Harmony Hammond’s Ongoing Revolution

This article is part of Hyperallergic2024 Pride Month series, featuring interviews with art-world queer and trans elders throughout June.

Everything I know about feminist art I’ve learned from Harmony Hammond, and for that, I feel incredibly lucky. Once a week I visit her studio in Galisteo, New Mexico, to do light administrative work. I say “light” because she is a powerhouse of organization, productivity, and focus; she’d do just fine without me hanging around but welcomes my help regardless. That same spirit — a balance of rigor and openness — infuses Hammond’s work as a groundbreaking artist, writer, and curator who has pioneered progressive, expansive thinking about feminist and queer art since the early 1970s. 

She was a co-founder of A.I.R., the first women’s cooperative art gallery in New York, in 1972, and co-founder of Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, in 1976, co-editing and writing for the journal’s third issue “Lesbian Art and Artists.” In 1978, she curated A Lesbian Show, the first exhibition of work by lesbian artists in New York at the artist-run 112 Greene Street Workshop. And in 1999, she curated Out West at Plan B Evolving Arts in Santa Fe, a show that has been revisited at least in part by the New Mexico Museum of Art with a current exhibition of the same name that looks at the contributions of gay and lesbian artists in the Southwest, 1900 to 1969.

Hammond has published numerous articles and essays, always through a fiercely generous feminist art lens. Her book Wrappings: Essays on Feminism, Art and the Martial Arts (TSL Press, 1984) is recognized as a foundational text; Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (Rizzoli, 2000) received the Lambda Literary Award and remains the primary publication on the subject. Still Dangerous! The Harmony Hammond Reader, edited by Tirza T. Latimer, is slated for publication by Duke University Press in early 2026.

Now it looks like the mainstream art world might finally be catching up with Hammond, who has been exhibiting for more than six decades. During the past two years, her work has been in more than 15 exhibitions around the globe, including The Whitney Biennial 2024; Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstraction, currently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, then traveling to the National Gallery of Canada, and finally to MoMA; and Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art, which opened at the Barbican in London and traveling to the Stedelijk Museum.

What follows is a brief interview with Hammond that glimpses her use of materials and the language of abstraction, and offers her perspective on being a feminist and queer artist today. 

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Hyperallergic: Has the art world felt open to you? Have you found it accepting?

Harmony Hammond: I moved to Manhattan in 1969 during the activism of the anti-war and liberation movements, and came out in 1973 in the context of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM). The art world has always been open to gay men, but not women, be they straight or gay. While I am sure I have been discriminated against for being queer, I’ve been far more discriminated against as a woman in patriarchal culture, and that includes the art world. Stonewall created a space for me, but it was the WLM that was the greatest influence and provided the most support. 

H: Who are your mentors? Did you have queer mentors?

HH: I did not have any family mentors, and women artists weren’t on the faculty when I was in college. For me, it was more about being in the right place at the right time — an experimental and politically conscious downtown art scene in the early ’70s — and meeting weekly with an art CR group to develop and critique work with feminist content, collective feminist organizing within the art world, and initiating projects such as A.I.R. and Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics that provided energy around shared political, creative, and professional goals. Since women artists and their work were not welcome in museums and galleries in the ’70s, we created our own venues for visibility. As with all organizing, it was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but it was also exhilarating, and if I dare say so, revolutionary.

H: Who are your peers? Your cohorts? Do you feel connected to upcoming queer artists and artwork?

HH: In addition to my studio practice, I’ve spent decades teaching, lecturing, writing, and curating (all of which I consider to be political work), so my cohorts in crime consist of a large national (and somewhat international), intergenerational network of feminist and queer artists, historians, writers, academics, and activists. Other than what my changing physical body tells me, I don’t think much about age. I’ve always had and value colleagues considerably older and younger than myself. Of course, nowadays, almost everyone is younger. That’s good—we need new voices. It’s great that women and queer artists of my generation are finally getting attention for their work, but given the huge resurgence of right-wing censorship of difference impacting queer, two-spirit, non-binary, and trans artists, I also think it’s important to organize and participate in local and regional “queer exhibitions” with emerging and upcoming artists, to occupy space, to continue being visible!

H: How does identity factor into your art?

HH: Identities and labels can give some information and be helpful. They don’t have to be limiting. We can define and redefine them on our own terms. 

I have two separate bodies of work that inform each other. Mostly I make large near-monochrome oil paintings that incorporate materials ranging from fabrics, rusted roofing tin, linoleum, latex rubber, burlap coffee sacks, and grommets to “natural” materials including straw, leaves, roots, hair, and blood in layers of thick pigment. The materials and the way they are physically manipulated and juxtaposed bring content into the painting field, what I call “material engagement” as a means to “social abstraction.” It’s a way of participating in the narrative of modernist painting and at the same time interrupting and revising that narrative to include voices of difference—those on the fringes, those who have been marginalized or silenced, to make work about agency. Like queer identity, abstract painting is indeterminate. Most of my work occupies a space between painting and sculpture, what we might call a third or queer space. I’m interested in “edges” and what goes on there. It’s where I hang out and am most comfortable.

I also make overtly political work such as “Speaking Braids” (2001–02) or “A Queer Reader” (2003) that intentionally deal with 2SLGBTQIA+ issues such as voice, censorship, and historical erasure. The two types of work co-exist and influence each other. Once in a while they come together. I’m thinking of “What Have You Done With Our Desire?,” a mixed-media installation painting from 1997 that is currently included in Out West: Gay and Lesbian Artists in the Southwest 1900 – 1969, or “Voices I” (2023), a recent work. Both juxtapose fragments of vintage domestic-patterned linoleum with text by the French lesbian feminist theorist Monique Wittig to suggest both a physical and linguistic violence. She writes: “As lesbians we can well ask heterosexual society: what have you done with our desire? With desire itself?” And continues: “If desire could liberate itself, it would have nothing to do with the preliminary marking of sexes.”

H: What does Pride month mean to you?

HH: June Pride is an occasion for community gathering and visibility — for queers to gather together. I have many fond memories. My first Gay Pride March (yes, they were political marches then, not rainbow parades!) was in 1974 in New York City. I walked from Christopher Street to Central Park with my daughter on my shoulders. She walked again with me in 1979.

In 2006, Delmas Howe, an artist who also lives in New Mexico, and I were invited to be Co-Grand Marshals of Albuquerque Pride. That’s the first time I have ever heard of visual artists, much less “painters” being asked to lead a Pride parade. I got to ride with my girlfriends in a vintage convertible and wave “like the queen.” Delmas was in a truck with his boys. The parade route started at the University of New Mexico and ended at the State Fairgrounds, where we queers took over the State Fair for the day. Delmas and I exhibited our artwork (including “A Queer Reader!”) next to queer pet shows and baking contests! Talk about community!

As you can see from the materials I use and the activities I participate in, there’s not much separation between my art and life. 

H: What are you working on now?

HH: I am finishing paintings for Fringe: Harmony Hammond Paintings 2014 – 2024 which will open at Site Santa Fe in late February 2025. The exhibition will focus on the abstract paintings in conversation with four more overtly political works. 

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