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Gallery 2 is entitled "America."

Photo courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum

On Jan. 18, the University Art Museum opened a new art installment, entitled “Creation Myths,” at the recently renovated Bainbridge House, located on 158 Nassau Street.

The installment, composed of four pieces by contemporary artist Hugh Hayden, is set to be displayed until June 7, 2020.

Hayden, a native of Dallas, Texas, seeks to comment on the history of Bainbridge House through a narrative composed of a series of distinctive but linked pieces. This is his first solo installment in a museum.

The installment includes four unique galleries: a kitchen, a dining room, a study, and a classroom.

James Steward h70, the Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director of the Art Museum, described the curatorial approach for the installment in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

“In many respects, curatorially, the project began with considering Bainbridge House’s origins as a house, with rooms that would have fulfilled now long-lost functions,” he wrote.

Upon entry, Gallery 1 represents the kitchen component of the installment. It displays a series of cast iron skillets, hung on a rack. Each skillet contains an imprint of an African mask, borrowed from the University’s own African art collection.

Gallery 4 (left) and Gallery 1 (right) Photo courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum

Gallery 2, the dining room, contains a single kitchen table with four chairs seated around it. The piece, entitled “America,” is made up of sculpted mesquite. Hayden chose to add visible spikes protruding throughout the furniture.

“High Cotton” is housed in Gallery 3, the study component of the installment. Hayden plays on the idea of an old-fashioned claw-grabber game, but instead fills it with cotton.

For the final gallery, Hayden chose to display a classroom, composed of a group of wooden chairs tangled with plywood. He titles this piece “Brier Patch (A, B, C, D).”

According to a pamphlet provided to visitors, in designing the display, Hayden wanted to comment on the politics associated with materials and therefore paid close attention to the materials used for the gallery pieces.

The skillets used in Gallery 1 are a mix of old and new skillets, some of which predate the Civil War. The dining set in Gallery 2 is made up of mesquite that Hayden harvested at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gallery 3 intentionally used raw cotton to fill the crane machine, and Gallery 4 is composed of used Christmas trees from Park Avenue, an affluent part of the United States, as explained by Hayden in the exhibition pamphlet.

"High Cotton," housed in Gallery 3 of the Bainbridge House.

Photo courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

“Creation Myths” is the second installment to be part of Art@Bainbridge  since it opened its doors last year. The first installment featured works from Jordan Nassar, a Palestinian-American artist.

The building itself dates back to 1766 and shares a closely linked history with the University.

Steward mentioned the University Art Museum’s goal in highlighting this history in his email.

“We made the decision that, in the first year, we would draw on and draw out that history, including its domestic past and its relationship to slaveholding since the house was built by a family that owned slaves,” he wrote. “But we may shift our focus in subsequent years.”

Museum associates working at the exhibition have expressed intrigue for the installation, including Emma Coley ’20, who works as a welcome desk attendant for the exhibit.

“These pieces invite an interpretation about domestic life … Things that you recognize from home — but all of them are made strange in some way, and I think that the more time you spend with [them] the more strange these objects become and the more questions they invite,” Coley said. 

Sakura Price ’22, also a welcome desk attendant, echoed the enthusiasm on display in visitor reactions.

“Some people are interested in the craftsmanship of the work itself and Hayden’s process,” she said. “Others are interested in how it relates to a domestic space, which is made more evident by Bainbridge House itself.”

Hayden will be delivering a talk with Professor of Art and Archaeology and African American Studies Chika Okeke-Agulu on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. in McCosh Hall 50. He is set to discuss the process and installment of “Creation Myths.” 

Hayden was unable to respond to request for comment by the time of publication.

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