Ann Hamilton: The event of a thread

January 3, 2013 |  Category:   art + design life nyc outings

I don’t make many new year resolutions, but one thing that I want to do this year is to see more art.


While I somehow managed to miss the Cindy Sherman show at MoMA this year, there was no way that I could miss Ann Hamilton‘s installation at the Park Avenue Armory. Hamilton is one of my favorite, if not perhaps my very favorite living artist. It’s not often that she exhibits in New York so experiencing her work in person is a rare treat.

The Park Avenue Armory, a 55,000 square foot space on the Upper East Side that allows works of art with unique and unconventional space requirements, is a treasure in and of itself. The last time we were there was nearly three years ago to see an installation by Ernesto Neto. Like the Neto, the Ann Hamilton installation is a multi-sensory experience that invites the audience to participate, inhabit and control the movements of the piece.

It never really occurred to me that unless you have a kid, swinging on swings might be something that some adults haven’t done in years, even since they were children. That’s the sentiment I kept hearing when we were there on a rainy Saturday after the holidays. It was crowded when we went, but because the pull and push of the swings control the undulating movements of the massive curtains in the center of the space, the installation was very active, kinetic and visceral. Unlike playground swings, the length of the chains are enormously long which resulted in a ride that was more akin to sailing through the air in long strides. You didn’t ever really go high or fast, but these swings took you farther. The whole experience was surreal and oddly soothing.

I also didn’t expect that laying down underneath the curtain would be as relaxing as it was. I heard one man describe the experience as feeling like a child laying on the floor and looking up a woman’s dress hem. For me, it almost felt like I was floating in water even though I was laying on a hardwood floor. The rise and fall of the curtains swirling above had a transporting effect.

Ann Hamilton’s work often has an element of performance art. Dotted along the space are 42 radios hidden in paper bags that you can pick up and carry around with you. 2 speakers wearing wooly capes broadcast passages of text from various authors to the radios. In front of them are homing pigeons which are said to be released to fly around the space at the end of each day. On the other side of the space sits a writer at a desk. Also at the end of each day, a singer serenades the audience from the balcony and the performance is cut on a record lathe to be rebroadcast the next morning. On the day that we were there, someone had seen my instagram photos and tweeted that he was the singer for that evening.

“The Event of a Thread” is at the Armory for 3 more days, closing on Sunday, January 6th.

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  • Erin January 3, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I, too, am still kicking myself about missing that Cindy Sherman show! Good resolution. We’re going on Saturday, just in the knick of time. Beautiful photos, Jenna.

  • Est Magazine January 3, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Absolutely lovely, you captured the essence of the installation so well.

  • Darra January 3, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    I just saw this last week. we were in town from boulder visiting family. brought my 6 month old daughter, husband and my parents. my parents are not art focused folk, and they loved it. loved swinging together on the swings and loved the armory building itself. and my 6 month old got to swing with her daddy for the first time. amazing. art that can touch and make accessible emotions and experience that we can all relate to. I wish everyone could experience this piece. you could feel in the room the innocence and joy of being a child again that we rarely get the chance to feel as adults.

  • Jen January 4, 2013 at 12:57 am

    I don’t know if you knew this, but Ann Hamilton designed the beautiful floor of one floor of the Seattle Public Library. As if that building wasn’t amazing enough.

  • Kat January 4, 2013 at 6:31 am

    This sounds phenomenal; although we have two art galleries (along with the University gallery) within walking distance, Chris and I rarely get the chance to experience something like this. Hopefully we’ll be able to visit our galleries when something like this is on, because installations that I can get involved with sound like my cup of tea 🙂

  • Kathleen January 4, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Ah, these are some of the most magical photos ever! I’m in love.

    This post has inspired me to go to the art museum here (in OKC) more often – starting tonight, maybe! We have a great Chuhuly exhibit and get some interesting touring exhibits.

    Happy new year, Jenna.

  • Justine January 4, 2013 at 9:27 am

    These images are stunning. Ann is a very good friend of my Aunt Jessie’s. I forwarded this post to her. (Jessie that is.)

  • Jenna January 4, 2013 at 9:45 am

    @Jen Yes, I did! We were there last summer and I noticed. That floor is beautiful. I did a post on that library.

  • Jenna January 4, 2013 at 9:47 am

    @Justine haha, I’m glad that you put in that the forwarded email was to your Aunt, not Ann Hamilton. I think I would have died, ha!

  • Karen January 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I am kicking myself for not having attempted to see this exhibit when we were in NYC last week. I had heard about it through a different outlet, but in the stress of moving to a new place right before traveling back East for the holidays, I forgot to write this down as as a must-see for our NYC itinerary. The photos are wonderful – glad I could experience it visually and vicariously through you!

  • lori January 4, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Looks like an amazing space. Seeing more art in 2013 sounds like a very nice idea ~

  • Susan January 5, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Oh how I wish I could see this…I’ve heard so many amazing things about it. I love swings, and I can imagine how peaceful and calming it must be.

  • Karen January 5, 2013 at 7:15 am

    I love the almost impossibly beautiful photo of mia alone on the swing!! She just looks so soulful… And in the one of the two of them claudine has the most gorgeous expression of innocent awe… You are so good at catching those fleeting expressions of childhood…

  • Gabriela January 5, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I adore Ann Hamilton!!! What a treat, especially to experience it with your girls. Love your resolution–join you in it.

  • Sharon @ Currently Coveting January 6, 2013 at 7:48 am

    I surprised my husband with a trip to this installation on its opening weekend and it was a surreal and magical experience. (He was very, very surprised.)

    It was great to see so many different types of people all in one place enjoying the swings. It made me chuckle to see the same expressions of joy on the faces of twenty-something hipsters and young children alike. I’m sure the same expression was on my face when I was swinging, demanding that my husband push me so that I could swing as high as possible. 🙂 What a great experience. So glad that you guys went before it closes.

  • Alice {sweet dreamer} January 6, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    These pics are beautiful. I wish I could have been there to experience it.

  • lyann January 7, 2013 at 4:11 am

    These are some great shots. They are eerie and cool. I love the dark and light contrast.

  • victoria January 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    WOW that looked incredible. Is it weird to say that it kind of put me in mind of a church, the reverence of it somehow – despite the fact there were swings. Your always amazing photos help of course!

  • taste area January 9, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    We managed to see Cindy Sherman’s exhibition at the moma when we were at NY (do you remember asking you where to stay?) and I have to tell you the woman is g-e-n-i-o-u-s. I loved her!
    Ann Hamilton seems really interesting too.xx