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Hugh Hayden

Brier Patch, October 2022–May 2023

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From October 2022 through May 2023, Dumbarton Oaks is hosting an acclaimed installation by artist Hugh Hayden first exhibited in Madison Square Park, New York. Titled Brier Patch, it features one hundred wooden elementary-school-style desks distributed in several groupings throughout the garden. Seventy-five of them erupt with tree branches, cohering into tangled assemblages with complex and shifting meanings. The accumulations of desks suggest the grid arrangement of classroom seating. The title evokes folklore traditions around the world, especially African, African American, and Native American, in which the brier patch is both protective and dangerous, a place both of adversity and refuge—not unlike schools themselves, given severe disparities in American education. The tangled branches can be read as a rebellion against uniformity, but also as emblems of intellectual development and incipient interpersonal connections. 

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In the Dumbarton Oaks gardens, the installation takes on other associations: histories of education in nature, of nature itself as educational, and of gardens as places of creative problem-solving. In subtle ways, it also squares off against Mediterranean traditions in the humanities, historically affirmed at Dumbarton Oaks by the gardens and, to a lesser extent, the institution’s collections and scholarly programs. Brier Patch advances a vision of the humanities at once more global, vernacular, and diverse. 

Hugh Hayden’s Brier Patch was commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York, and was first exhibited in Madison Square Park.

All photos courtesy of Sandy Kavalier.

About the Artist

Hayden was born in Dallas, Texas in 1983 and lives and works in New York City. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University and an MFA from Columbia University. His work, he says, arises from a deep connection to nature and organic materials along with a youthful passion for gardening at his family’s home. He often explores commonplace objects as varied as discarded tree trunks, Christmas trees, cooking pans, or souvenir African sculptures; he saws, weaves, sculpts, and sands the material, creating works that express inherent cultural histories. He has had solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2022); Princeton University Art Museum (2020); and White Columns, New York (2018).

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