Graham Hamilton’s exhibition at Theta feels familiar yet off, like its title, “Dearly.” What a curious adverb. What on earth can you be doing if you’re doing it dearly? “Dearly beloved” evokes a wedding ceremony at the outset, though it’s a particular sort of matrimony for those loved very much; the minister might be Protestant but not fire-breathing; and it’s the ’50s, maybe the ’60s. “Dear” is so basic—that, too, is beginning to show its age, its staginess. I myself still address correspondence with the salutation “Dear,” especially when writing to strangers, but that’s all very affected, maybe counterproductive. And so Hamilton’s show is suffused with affection, with one thing married to another, even as it is so clever and cunning: contemporary retardataire.
Among the works on view—sculptures, silk-screen prints—is Parade 1, 2023. Its materials, right from the checklist, are “ink-jet print on cardboard, storage box, Gaudi bronze powder on water, kick drum pedal.” It’s a sublimely arty ensemble, so quotidian, yet shot through with the otherworldly, like Gaudi bronze powder: made from the metal of sculpture since barest antiquity; atomized, dematerialized, dispersed upon the air, or rather upon water (and a name, like Antoni, architect of the Sagrada Familia cathedral of Barcelona, industrialized Gothic that’s very niche modernism and very touristy all the same). The kick-drum pedal invites our participation, and with that summons certainly a few art-history courses, tripping from Dada and Duchamp through neo-Dada and Fluxus. I feel a little nervous saying this name but let’s just do it: John Cage. I’m thinking of Cage as he appears on the classic television talk/variety show I’ve Got a Secret, where he performed Water Walk, 1959. Beforehand, host Garry Moore says to the magus of dust and racket and silences, “These are nice people, but some of them are going to laugh. Is that all right?” Eliciting one of Cage’s best lines: “Of course. I consider laughter preferable to tears.”
While there are no obvious tears in Parade 1 or in “Dearly” overall, the show has a kind of barely there tenderness that is both cagey and Cagean.