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Brad Kahlhamer

Brad Kahlhamer: Swap Meet

Feb 26 - Oct 9, 2022

New York City-based Native American artist Brad Kahlhamer draws his inspiration from the ethnographic experience of fieldwork at swap meets throughout the Southwest, fueling an artistic practice in varying mediums of painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, and music.



New York and Arizona-based Native American artist Brad Kahlhamer first exhibited at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) in 2004 with his hugely successful Let’s Walk West show. For his second SMoCA exhibition more than 15 years later, Swap Meet, Kahlhamer presents new work made in both his Brooklyn and Mesa studios, where he works among the mediums of painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, and music.

Engaging in fieldwork at swap meets throughout the Southwest since the age of 18 (his first road trip resulted in collecting a javelina head at a Tucson flea market), Kahlhamer draws from this ethnographic experience. He also pulls from his fascination with Ledger art—drawings done by Indigenous warrior-artists from the northern and southern plains of the contiguous United States and Canada in the mid-19th to early 20th century—and his time spent with Native art communities while living and working back in the Sonoran Desert in Mesa, Arizona.

The social and cultural space of the Arizona desert swap meet reflects, models, and fuels Kahlhamer’s recent artistic practice and preoccupations. At the intersection of neighborhoods, city sprawls, and open-space land, swap meets fill in the cultural gaps between communities and are spontaneous meeting spaces, where many social networks form between individuals of different ages, residency status, cultures, and race. Like a museum or gallery, or the art world itself, the swap meet is a site of exchange and experience. What we think of as a “third-space”—a gathering space for an affective community—with like-minded strangers or friends who seek out a place of meaning, belonging, or surviving. At the cross-section of American cultures and his own culture as an artist, Swap Meet becomes Kahlhamer’s meditation on a nomadic and intersectional contemporary condition.

Brad Kahlhamer is represented by Garth Greenan Gallery in Chelsea in New York City and works between his Brooklyn and Mesa studios. An Indigenous person adopted in infancy by a German American family, he was raised in Tucson, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. He then moved to the Midwest for adolescence, later finding himself in the 1980s post-punk era of New York City’s East Village, where his art career commenced. To this day, his biological parents and his tribal affiliation remain unknown to him. It is in this nationless identity space that Kahlhamer has created what he calls his “nomadic” itinerant contemporary art practice.

For this exhibition, SMoCA has commissioned the central installation, which is composed of a mobile home trailer studio (purchased in cash at a Mesa swap meet in 2019) with a built-out proscenium for performances, in addition to a new series of Zombie Botanicals, Nomadic Studio Sketchbooks, paintings, a large-scale dream catcher kinetic sculpture, a dream catcher American flag, and new rock sculptures Rock Shop (Geological Studies), among other elements.

The exhibition is curated by guest curator Dr. Natasha Boas and is accompanied by a series of performances, including Navajo Nation country act Dirt Rhodes, and an illustrated catalog published by Temblores Publicaciones, the publishing house of Terremoto, Mexico City. Founded in 2017, Temblores seeks to enable editorial spaces that activate critical dialogues between the work of contemporary artists and that of professionals within the field of curatorship and research in the arts. The catalog features writing by Dr. Natasha Boas, the exhibition curator, Gerald McMaster, Plains Cree and a member of the Siksika Nation, a curator, artist, scholar, and Director of the Wapatah Centre for Indigenous Visual Knowledge, OCAD University, Toronto, Canada; as well as New York based Mexican writer Eva Mayhabal Davis,  curator, co-director of Transmitter, founder of El Salón. 

Brad Kahlhamer: Swap Meet is organized by Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and guest curated by Dr. Natasha Boas. The exhibition and catalog are supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Garth Greenan Gallery, New York; and Arlene and Keith Bronstein. 


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