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Maren Hassinger

Long-term view, Dia Beacon

Overview

Spanning over five decades, Maren Hassinger’s practice integrates performance, sculpture, fiber arts, and installation, often blurring the boundaries between these mediums. The artist’s signature use of industrial wire rope began in the 1970s—while pursuing her master’s degree in fiber structure at the University of California, Los Angeles—when she encountered the material in a junkyard. Since then, she has consistently manipulated the material to both physically and conceptually tease out its organic attributes. Now at Dia Beacon, exhibited for the first time in nearly 40 years and in its never-before-seen entirety of 182 components, Field (1983) articulates Hassinger’s central formal and conceptual concerns. Comprised of wire-rope bundles meticulously unraveled to resemble feathered metal stalks planted in cement bases, the piece evokes, in the artist’s words, an “industrial field” where human-made products emulate nature in its absence, beckoning a reconsideration of one’s relationship with organic forms across both natural and built environments.

Maren Hassinger is organized by Jordan Carter, curator and co–department head, with Zuna Maza, curatorial assistant.

All exhibitions at Dia are made possible by the Economou Exhibition Fund. 

Maren Hassinger is made possible by support from the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation and James L. Cahn and Jeremiah J. Collatz.

Spanning over five decades, Maren Hassinger’s practice integrates performance, sculpture, fiber arts, and installation, often blurring the boundaries between these mediums. Created in 1983, a year before she relocated from Los Angeles to New York, the expansive, multipart wire-rope installation Field articulates Hassinger’s central formal and conceptual concerns. The artist’s signature use of industrial wire rope began in the 1970s, while pursuing her master’s degree, when she encountered the material in a junkyard. “I feel that there’s an absence of nature,” she noted in 2021, “yet a proliferation of human-made products which reflect nature or imitate nature. Wire rope is one such product.” Since Hassinger began utilizing this material—which, for her, embodies the productive tensions between the natural and the industrial—she has consistently manipulated wire rope to both physically and conceptually tease out its organic attributes.

For its first presentation, in a group show at Los Angeles Southwest College Art Gallery in 1983, Field was installed indoors, while in its subsequent presentation, at California State University in Northridge Art Galleries in 1985, the work was displayed mostly outdoors. Divided by a glass partition, the majority of the components were placed outside the gallery space with only a single row remaining within it, underscoring the relationship between the interior and the exterior, the industrial and the natural. Now at Dia Beacon, exhibited for the first time in nearly 40 years and in its never-before-seen entirety of 182 components, these tensions are further articulated as Field occupies an indoor gallery illuminated by both natural and artificial light. Hassinger serially produced the 182 individual bundles of wire rope on view here, each meticulously unraveled to resemble feathered metal stalks planted in cement bases. These units are arranged in a tight grid, allowing the metal branches to intermingle and cultivating an organic composition that at once adheres to and disrupts its structural geometry. Enhancing this dichotomy, the work simultaneously invites and materially denies entry into its dense overgrowth. In this manner, the piece evokes, in the artist’s words, an “industrial field” where human-made products emulate nature in its absence, beckoning a reconsideration of one’s relationship with organic forms across both natural and built environments.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Hassinger began studying dance at a young age and initially pursued that path of study at Bennington College, Vermont, in the late 1960s. Though dance and performance would remain vital to her artistic practice, the artist turned her focus to sculpture and in the early 1970s enrolled in the then-new fiber structure graduate program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Upon discovering wire rope with its fiber-like qualities, Hassinger would establish a rich formal language with the material—from wire cable and branch sculptures like Wreath (1979), to dense wiry wheat-like sheaves and fields like On Dangerous Ground (1981) and Field, to undulating single-wire rope-strand installations like Paradise (1990). Hassinger focused on the expansive and responsive possibilities of a narrow range of materials, and, alongside her contemporaries, engaged in process-oriented methodologies associated with Postminimailism.

In 1976, the artist staged her first performance, responding to her own wire-rope sculptures as scenography, titled High Noon and presented in downtown Los Angeles’s ARCO Center for Visual Art. Set to flamenco music, she and her collaborators wielded fabric and branches and moved improvisationally within the installation. Hassinger initiated an enduring, interdisciplinary collaboration with artist Senga Nengudi (whose work is also on view at Dia Beacon) in which they explored a shared interest in performative engagements with sculpture. A notable example is Hassinger’s 1977 embodied activation of Nengudi’s pantyhose sculptures from the R.S.V.P. series (1975– ), in which she physically entangled herself in the nylon construction, responding to and manipulating its flexible form. Hassinger’s performance practice is uniquely symbiotic with her sculptural work in that she takes a movement-oriented approach to sculpture. “I combined cable and branches and began to use the cable in a fiber-like manner,” said the artist in 1984. “I bunched it and bound it with wire, then un-plied all the strands. . . I noticed that the material began to resemble living, moving, growing things. . . . Titles like ‘Whirling,’ ‘Leaning,’ ‘Walking,’ and ‘Trees’ became appropriate.” As these titles suggest, Hassinger considers her materials as active and responsive agents that suggest movement. Field marks a milestone in the artist’s oeuvre, encapsulating Hassinger’s perception of the viewer’s bodily navigation around the work as an extension of this embodied choreography, as well as her interest in our relationship with nature—its absence, erasure, and enduring power.

—Jordan Carter with Zuna Maza

Field, 1983
Concrete and wire
Courtesy the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC

Maren Hassinger was born in Los Angeles in 1947. She received a BA in sculpture from Bennington College, Vermont, in 1969, and an MFA in fiber structure from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1973. Often making use of both organic and mass-produced materials—including branches, plastic bags, newspapers, and wire rope—Hassinger’s work engages with the natural environment and its intersections with issues related to humanity. In the 1970s Hassinger was involved with Studio Z, a loose collective of artists that included Houston Conwill, David Hammons, and Senga Nengudi, among others. She has had solo exhibitions and projects at numerous institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Aspen Art Museum, Colorado; Baltimore Museum of Art; Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida; Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens; and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta. In 2021, the artist presented Maren Hassinger at Dia Bridgehampton, where she created a series of fabric panels printed with her work Circles of Bushes (1991) and two new bush sculptures on the outside grounds. Hassinger was a lecturer in the Department of Art at Stony Brook Southampton, New York, from 1992 to 1997; and served as Director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, from 1997 to 2018. Hassinger lives in New York.

Artist

Maren Hassinger

Maren Hassinger was born in Los Angeles in 1947. She lives and works in New York City.

 

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