Paula Hayes’s living art intimately connects people with the natural environment. Both living sculptures and mini-ecosystems, Hayes’s body of work, spanning over two decades, forges new relationships among artwork, owner, and the natural and human environment. For Understory, Hayes transforms the Tang’s Payne Room into an immersive environment brimming with life. Part exhibition gallery, part lounge, and part dining room, the space features a forest of large silicone planters housing a field of Norfolk pine trees, a series of her exquisite hand-blown glass terrariums, home to a variety of plants and gems, and new wallpaper and dinnerware she has custom-designed for this exhibition.
Over the course of a year, Understory will host many dialogues and events, including a series of themed dinners related to Hayes’s innovative practice, as well as the Tang’s tenth anniversary celebration. Served on Hayes’s hand-crafted dinnerware, the menus will highlight sustainable agriculture and seasonal eating with locally raised food, some from Skidmore’s own student garden, prepared by Skidmore Executive Chef Jim Rose in consultation with Hayes. Through the year the space will develop and change as the plant life grows and as visitors interact with the artworks and each other. In this way the exhibition extends the Tang’s belief in museum space as a laboratory for exploring and debating the intersection of art, the environment, and the future.
Born in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1958, and raised on a farm in upstate New York, Paula Hayes received her BS from Skidmore College and MFA from Parsons School of Design. In the late 1980s, Hayes merged her art with everyday practical concerns by developing a gardening business in New York City to help support her graduate studies. Her work has expanded to include large-scale garden design for public and private landscapes here and abroad; mesmerizing hand-blown glass terrariums; malleable silicone planters that change shape in response to a plant’s growth; crocheted necklaces that cradle living plants; and birdhouses, birdbaths, and feeders. Hayes’s role as nurturer constantly informs her practice; in 1999 she devised a necklace for carrying a plant on the body as a mother carries an infant. Owning her artwork requires similar attentiveness and care, and collectors must sign an “Agreement for a Living Artwork,” which outlines their obligation to maintain its life. A copy of that agreement, along with some of her earlier drawings and sculpture, appear on the Tang’s mezzanine.
Paula Hayes: Understory is organized by Ian Berry, Susan Rabinowitz Malloy '45 Curator of the Tang Museum, in collaboration with the artist. The Opener series is made possible with the generous support of the New York State Council on the Arts, the Overbrook Foundation, and the Friends of the Tang. Special thanks to Iris Marden for her generous loan to the exhibition and Teo Camporeale for his collaboration on the animation.