The objects in Ivy Haldeman’s larger-than-life paintings also have aspirations.
Disembodied figures in sharp-shouldered jackets with matching pencil skirts look as if they’ve stepped out of earshot after a board meeting to discuss how they really feel. Anthropomorphic hotdogs with dainty features suggestively lounging, reading, applying moisturizer and talking on banana phones inside their golden buns.
“I find them very relatable,” Haldeman said in a call from his Brooklyn Navy Yard studio in New York. The artist, 36, has been painting quirky, everyday moments of things animate and inanimate for half a decade, though her work feels increasingly relevant after spending a couple of years indoors.
The human mannerisms of his slightly bored hotdogs and empty power suits simultaneously convey lethargy, longing, and luxury, while grappling with issues of gender and identity in ways that now place Haldeman among the most in-demand performers of his generation.
“Ivy focuses a kind of spellbound attention on visual codes of aspiration and autonomy,” said gallery owner Alex Ross. He is a director of Downs & Ross, which represents Haldeman in New York. “It’s hard to think of a practice that more subtly marks the relationships between desire and consumerism in a way that’s both seductive and elegantly complex.”
He added: “All of his recent solo shows, globally and without exception, have sold out.”
Prices have risen with demand. In the last year, for example, Haldeman’s acrylic on canvas Two suits, wrist folded, cuff to pocket (mauve, peach)Part of his Capsule Shanghai 2019 exhibit “(Hesitate)” was estimated to fetch between $20,000 and $30,000 at auction. Instead, it raised more than $138,000.
Today, Haldeman’s artworks are in public and private collections internationally, from the Dallas Museum of Art to the Miami Institute of Contemporary Art, the X Museum in Beijing, and the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.
While planning Haldeman’s first solo show at Downs & Ross in September 2018, Ross said, “It was clear that he was advancing a new language for portraiture that would prove extremely significant.”
Haldeman’s paintings speak an idiosyncratic but universal language. Inspired by the way color is read in Ukiyo-e woodblock prints by Japanese artists like Kitagawa Utamaro, she uses pigments to create a backlit effect, as if you were viewing his work through a screen.
When he paints, he lets thin layers of acrylic dry for 24 hours to help his canvases reflect light. “I think a lot about the materials in my work,” she said. “Acrylic is a type of plastic, and it’s really funny because my grandfather was a plastic salesman,” Haldeman said. “The plastics company paid for my mother’s art education. I’m here now [creating] pictures made of plastic.
The artist has long been reflecting on the visual culture of capitalism. “When he was five years old, he was thinking about suits,” he said. “I was like, How to be an adult? How is power usurped in the world? This imagery enters the psyche very early.”
By then, she had received her first sketchbook, a gift from her mother, a textile artist, that would take the Colorado-born Haldeman to museums wherever her military family moved: Boston, Maryland, Germany and beyond. “I have memories of falling asleep on her big printing tables where she would be painting silk scarves,” she said. “She really encouraged me to get involved with art.”
Haldeman went on to study at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. “I didn’t really know if I wanted to make art, but I felt like I needed to expand my world,” he said. After graduating, still insecure, she took legal and medical writing jobs and trained as an EMT.
Later, he said, “I had this funny moment where I was like, Do you know what I love to do? I love daydreaming about all the things I could to be.” And so he chose the life of an artist.
Although Haldeman began drawing her hot dogs after a trip to Buenos Aires in 2011, inspired by a hand-painted snack ad she saw on the side of a corner store in the city, her experience of living, or surviving, , in New York City as a young artist gave new meaning to the initial drawings.
“A very important part of me coming to paint this hotdog figure was realizing that the hotdog was not a figure to laugh at,” he said.
“I know what it’s like to try to be a person, but you find you’re stuck in the grind of work and commercialism. I know what it’s like to feel very masculine, but I don’t know what to do with my femininity. I know what it’s like to be a tough human being, but I aspire to some kind of high-class elegance.” Their hot dog buns are sometimes shaped like fur coats.
Long fascinated by Hellenistic works, Haldeman has always envisioned her hotdogs as colossal figures. Over time, both her studio space and her works have expanded to accommodate this dream; She now employs two assistants at her Brooklyn Navy Yard studio, whose 14-foot ceilings and 10-foot doors make it feasible to transport her ever-larger canvases.
This summer, Shanghai’s Yuz Foundation will host a Haldeman solo exhibition featuring his largest paintings yet, measuring up to 20 feet in length, nearly three times his normal height.
Lily Wang, deputy director of the foundation, compared Haldeman’s work to that of sculptor Claes Oldenburg. Two Cheeseburgers, With Everything (Dual Hamburgers) and also French literary theorist Roland Barthes’ mythologies. “People can easily see themselves in his paintings,” she said.
Haldeman’s most recent works deal with the constant encounters one has with one’s own image today, when the intention may be “to project yourself into other social spaces, but you’re actually looking at yourself while doing it,” he said. It is an identifiable search for all those who navigate in an isolated and progressively digital world that at the same time invites constant visibility.
Last year, an anonymous donor bought Haldeman’s Twice colossus, head tilts left, little finger up, head tilts right (stare) for the University of Chicago Smart Art Museum. It features two hotdogs looking at each other or, perhaps, a hotdog looking at its own reflection.
Either way, as Jennifer Carty, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, put it, “During our incredibly unpredictable and tumultuous times, it seems only right to turn to the surreal.”
The real world is really exhausting, full of power trips and all-too-real interactions, both online and in real life, that feel less human than hotdogs and hollow suits. Haldeman’s work offers a sense of respite from it all, residing in a “fantasy space where nothing happens,” as she put it.
“It takes on a whole new meaning when everyone is home, perhaps enjoying a sofa that looks a lot like this bow.”
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