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Susan Hamburger

Mitzi & Warren Eisenberg Gallery
September 14 - December 2, 2012

Opening Reception: September 14, 6 pm - 8 pm

Susan Hamburger borrows images and designs from 18th- and 19th-century European decorative and fine arts to address current social, political and economic issues. Her work resembles the tapestries, wallpaper, paintings, decorative objects and architecture of these historic eras. In Creeping Ornamentalism she simulates a period room in the Rococo style, with intricate hand-painted wall panels and faux moldings. Hamburger subverts the elegant prettiness of the Rococo era by incorporating references to extreme weather, endangered species and climate science.

The site-specific installation reflects New Jersey’s flora and fauna, and includes images of the state’s endangered animals, such as the osprey, the vesper sparrow and the blue-spotted salamander. In contrast to the expected bucolic or pastoral landscapes typical of Rococo painting, the cartouches at the centers of three large panels focus on the destruction caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011 in New Jersey, Vermont and Massachusetts—all states where the artist has resided. These scenes of devastation create a jarring contrast between nature tamed and nature unleashed. Hamburger often incorporates portraits of contemporary politicians, scientists and corporate leaders who may play important roles in the issues she investigates; this installation, with its focus on extreme weather, includes portraits of acknowledged climate science deniers.

The exhibition title suggests the meandering growth of invasive plants like English Ivy, which seem harmless and pretty, but crowd out native species. By allowing this plant to “invade” her design, Hamburger may hint at something deeper. Just as invasive species can infiltrate and disrupt eco-systems, so too can human intervention have dire and irreversible consequences on nature. Hamburger’s fanciful “ornamentalism” is beautiful but slightly unsettling; it pleases the eye, but also creeps under the skin.

Click the Play button to view the Flickr slideshow.

Artwork detail: Susan Hamburger, Creeping Ornamentalism, 2012