Maren Hassinger Biography

A native of Los Angeles, Maren Hassinger (b. 1947) is a multimedia artist who creates sculpture, installation, performance, and video art.  Before moving to Baltimore, Maryland, where she currently resides, Hassinger received a BA from Bennington College and an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work represents a desire for discovery, which is seen in her careful experimentation with artistic materials, but also in her invocation of the natural in most of her work.

In 1972, at the height of the Women’s Movement, Hassinger began graduate work at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Fiber Arts Department, where she experimented with natural and industrial materials to create work that appeared to be organic objects, such as branches, bushes, and trees.   A 1973 Eva Hesse exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum likely prompted Hassinger to begin experimenting with organic and synthetic materials. [1]

During the height of her experimentation with artistic materials, Hassinger met Senga Nengudi, a performance artist and sculptor who had recently graduated from California State with an M.A. in Sculpture in 1971.  Hassinger and Nengudi’s friendship soon blossomed into collaboration, when they discovered that they both wanted to experiment with different concepts through sculpture and dance. Hassinger and Nengudi’s collaborative and experimental use of materials corresponds to trends in the 1970s feminist movement in which women artists worked with non-traditional art materials, particularly video art and photography, to eschew the hierarchical and patriarchal traditions of the art world, which dismissed non-traditional media art as craft.  For these artists, collaboration challenged academic art institutions.

Despite the seemingly supportive environment for women artists during this period, Hassinger and Nengudi’s performance ideas were not encouraged by the white dominated art world in Los Angeles.  To pursue their artistic ideas, they found solidarity among a group of African American artists in Los Angeles, including Ulysses Jenkins, David Hammons, Franklin Parker, and Houston Conwill.  They also sought alternative venues in which to create their pieces.  Hassinger and Nengudi often developed and executed their performances  in various places in and around Los Angeles, including empty amphitheaters, abandoned buildings, parks, construction sites and gardens, creating a firm foundation of artistic collaboration.[2]

Many of her performances are collaborations with Nengudi.  Their most recent collaboration is Side by Side, a video that presents a retrospective of their collaborations that was first shown at the Nomadic Night Series Foundation’s Cartier pour l’art Contemporain in Paris France.  Other collaborations with Nengudi include Nature’s Way (1986), Four (1984), Spooks who sat by the door (1983), Flying (1982) Alive Performance (1980), Get Up (1980), Ceremony for Freeway Vets (1978), and Performance Piece – Nylon Mesh and Maren Hassinger (1977).   Both artists are also involved in an on-going collaboration of mail art since 1999.

Whether she is performing with Nengudi or by herself, film plays a large role in Hassinger’s performances. Daily Mask (2004), a 16mm film transferred to video, portrays Hassinger acting in her own story, one that references an African past, through various references to sculpture, art history, cultural history, and feminist issues. By adopting different masks, Hassinger exposes the uselessness of cultural stereotyping, which often erases commonalities between people and creates racial and social barriers. [3] Approximately thirty years after the beginning of the Feminist and Civil Rights movement, Hassinger remains committed to contemporaneous discourse surrounding the performativity of race and gender.

In addition to her performances, Hassinger is well regarded for her public art projects including the installations Twelve Trees #2, San Diego Freeway, Los Angeles (1979); Window Boxes, Whitney Museum at Philip Morris, New York (1993); Fence of Leaves, P.S. 8, New York (1995); Ancester Walks, P.S. 176, New York (1996); Message from Malcolm, north street IRT subway station, New York (2001); and Art in the Garden, Grant Park, Chicago (2004-5).

Among her solo exhibitions and group exhibitions are Gallery Six: Maren Hassinger, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1981); Los Angeles City College Art Gallery (1985); Focus Environment, Maren Hassinger, California State University Art Gallery, Northridge (1985); Blanket of Branches and Dancing Branches, Contemporary Arts Forum and Alice Keck Park, Santa Barbara, California (1986); Art as a Verb: The Evolving Continuum, Maryland Institute College of Art (1988); Maren Hassinger, Gracie Mansion Gallery, New York (1991); Memory, Benton Gallery, Southhampton, New York (1993); Treachery and Consolation, Trans-Hudson Gallery, Jersey City, New Jersey (1996); Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art (1996); My hand, this leaf, David Allen Gallery, Brooklyn (2001); Diaries, Julio Art Gallery, Loyola College, Baltimore (2004); Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 , Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2005).[4]

Throughout her career, Hassinger has been an active educator, and has served as the Director of the Rhinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art since 1997.

[1] “Maren Hassinger,” in Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving image since 1970 (Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2008).

[2] Senga Nengudi, “Maren and me.” November 10, 2009.

[3] Angela Barnwell Brownlee and Valerie Cassell Oliver Cinema Remixed and Reloaded:  Black Women Artists and the Moving image since 1970 (Seattle, Washington:  University of Washington Press, 2008).

[4] Lists of exhibitions compiled from information in: “Maren Hassinger,”  in Cinema Remixed and Reloaded:  Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970 (Seattle, Washington:  University of Washington Press, 2008).


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