James Hyde, big pillow, 1999

acrylic on linen, crumbled newspaper, The West Collection at SEI



Physical and mental relationships hardly ever come in the same body of work, but that is exactly what happens with Jim Hyde’s efforts in two Philadelphia exhibitions. Like a big ol’ piece of Belgian chocolate, there is a central thread between urge and refinement in Hydes’ painting and furniture works. Perhaps this is why in the painting show at U Arts there is an abbreviated cluster of furniture, and why the furniture installation at Basekamp Hyde says is a “populated painting.”

Magritte’s painting of the giant apple in the room (the listening room, ‘52) was a quintessential Surrealist work in that it spells out how strange scale shifts in a domestic setting can be very powerful and subversive ideas. We know our dining rooms well, and don’t go on that sacred ground! At U Arts, Jim Hyde has shifted our sense of scale with a giant 6 foot x 6 foot pillow piece (á la throw pillow) inhabiting one corner of the gallery. Here the “Big Pillow” leans up high against the wall and has a slumping mass—like any pillow would. The piece is very convincing as a pillow and yet instead of a fabric print being revealed on the front side of it, there is a painting which resembles a detail from a Monet water lily painting. Pale blue and green painted strokes stream around the 36 square foot surface of the front of the pillow in a structure far different from decoration—it is the structure of landscape painting. The Surreal juxtaposition of the pillow is not nearly as important as the Conceptual questions it begins to ask about where paintings belong. Because these are wall pieces, does that make them inherently paintings? Can I sleep and then dream on this painting?

Six blocks away from U Arts, at Basekamp (the collaborative gallery), Hyde’s furniture pieces are arranged in axis on the floor like a kind of furniture landscape. As you enter the space an overhead geometric cloud formation hanging from the ceiling confronts you. These geometric clouds are papier maché styrofoam pieces hanging from strings like a mobile. The clouds hover just above your head at 7 feet or so. You get a good look at them and then the tendency is to move over to one of the furniture clusters where the ceiling is much higher. The furniture clusters are gridded in arrangements where the sheet metal chairs and Plexi “Glow” tables provide their own light. The power to the orange, red, and white glowing tables is provided by orange and yellow extension cords of the same ilk that would power a leaf blower. The light from these glow tables is the only light in the room, and the colored florescent haze reflects off of the silver sheet metal. Not only do the boxy Minimal chairs relate to Judd’s furniture, but they also could be found on the set of Star Trek. Some of the chaises are very angular and sleek and have gem-like cut corners. The other chairs have low, slightly rounded seats and feel friendly, like seating for kids. The flow of people around the furniture at the opening was frenzied as participants wanted to try sitting in all of the different designs. Metaphorically this set up is similar to Mondrian’s broadway boogie woogie but instead of the eye moving around to colored squares on the canvas, visitors to Basekamp moved around the grid of the gallery floor to punctuated red and orange lit squares. The people completed the “painting.”(continued)

In Hyde’s wall paintings and big pillow the work comes out to meet you, large and friendly, but with Conceptual freight about Constructivism, Modernism, Plein-air Painting, and Minimalism. All of the work is outgoing in two senses: first, it literally comes out spatially into your domain, and second it is personable and asks to be populated in order to be content.

Lee Stoetzel
New York, New York