Jim Hodges’ work explores themes of fragility, temporality, love and death in a highly original and poetic vocabulary. He frequently deploys different materials and techniques: from ready-made objects to traditional media such as graphite and ink. Often disarmingly simple or executed with minimal means, Hodges’ works express a sentiment of deeply felt experience and encourage a visceral and communal response.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: The Contemporary Austin Austin Archive
For the reopening of the Contemporary Austin – Jones Center the Museum unveiled “With Liberty and Justice for All (A Work in Progress)” a large-scale outdoor sculpture by Jim Hodges, A previously version was installed in 2014 at the Aspen Art Museum. Hodges created the work as an open-ended platform. He noted that the multiple interpretations and conversations that the work may elicit are as integral to the work of art as are the materials with which it was constructed, and hopes that the work will prompt questions and dialogue both within the Museum and among Austin community as a hole, particularly among viewers who may not otherwise engage with Contemporary Art. Hodges’s work has expanded in recent years beyond fragility and ephemerality to explore situations of permanence and timelessness. Characteristic of his use of succinct but powerful gestures, as well as his interest in language to convey open-ended concepts, the work, consists of the title’s words “With Liberty and Justice for All” spelled out in 2 meter-tall letters spanning two sides of The Contemporary Austin’s Moody Rooftop at the Jones Center. During the day, the letters’ iridescent, mirrored surfaces oscillate between blues, purples, oranges, and pinks, reflecting the environment around them. At dusk, the letters remain visible, lit from within to transform the work into a magnificent sculpture of color and light. Following a previous generation of artists working in found and “poor” materials and advocating for a dematerialized form of art making, namely ‘60s and ‘70s precursors such as Eva Hesse, Marisa Merz, Mario Merz, Paul Thek, and Richard Tuttle, as well as ‘70s minimalist and conceptualist artists including Dan Flavin, Ellsworth Kelly, and Sol LeWitt, Hodges’s practice embraced ephemerality and the handmade in both concept and material. As a gay artist, Hodges was deeply enmeshed in the culture wars and AIDS epidemic of the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and his beginnings can also be contextualized within a deeply fraught period in which many artists, facing censorship, were activists and political outliers. However, like the work of his friend, the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Hodges’s response was not heavy-handed politicism but disarmingly simple, sometimes beautiful, and seemingly innocuous objects and installations that often engaged the viewer in an immersive or even playful manner while serving as Trojan horses for powerful political messages.
Info: The Contemporary Austin, 700 Congress Avenue, Austin, Duration: 15/12/16-ongoing, Days & Hours: Tue-Sat 11:00-19:00, Sun 12:00-17:00, www.thecontemporaryaustin.org