Electric Bumper Cars (detail), 2008. Bass wood, 23 x 49 x 37 in.

Evidence of Being: A Conversation with Richard Humann

While Williamsburg can claim no movement as its own, the inventive sculpture of Richard Humann reveals what made the hip Brooklyn neighborhood a creative escape from art world institutionalization and commercialization in the 1990s. Although Williamsburg has recently succumbed to development pressures, driving out mid-level artists at crucial stages in their careers, Humann retains his original studio while exhibiting throughout the United States and internationally.

Humann, who was born in 1961, delivers a crucial message about the keys to his generation’s ascent to power: integration and containment. Arising out of the open community in which he was a pioneer, his vision matured under a short-lived neo-Fluxus experiment in a Broadway space linked to Fluxus founder George Maciunas. Humann’s experimental approach led to works that juxtapose historically sanctioned self-exploration with the tightening noose of academic appropriation and the globalized international art market. His examinations of the personal and the universal alternate between investigations of coding systems and explorations of the individual subconscious projected in everyday objects. In 1997, at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, he made his mark with The Lightbox, a piece in which he illuminated the work of fellow artists.

His intention was to create a raw exchange of identities, energies, and ideas. He then embarked on a personal journey that examined new archetypes within universal systems of coding (“Psycho Killer,” Lance Fung Gallery, 1998). In “Evidence of my Being” (Lance Fung Gallery, 2000), he used his own image to explore the choices facing the collective ego: surrender to an emerging archetype versus the desire for personal fame. This led to the depletion of his subconscious in “A Childish Fear” (Lance Fung Gallery, 2003) and subsequent integration of his dual path of exploration through the human body. His most recent exhibition at Elga Wimmer PCC in Chelsea, “You Must Be This Tall,” featured a miniature satirical amusement park.

Lisa Paul Streitfeld: Dunk the Clown, to me, is the key to “You Must Be This Tall”: the geometry of the noose above the trap door means death by hanging, but on another level it is an opening of possibility, discovery, and creativity. When did you start it?
Richard Humann: Two years ago, around the New Year. It was begun, destroyed, and begun again. It started with me reinventing myself, the idea of who I am as an artist. I went back to my roots, asking, “Where did my art start?” Even at 15 years old, I was attracted to Minimalism. Donald Judd was my inspiration. So, I thought, “What would I do with a Donald Judd box?” I started envisioning it as a room. The box is a room where things live. Somehow I got the idea of building an electric chair in this room. On the wall, there would be a video screen with cartoons. I built a mini-electric chair, but took it away. It was too obvious. I went back to other things. And then, six months later, I did this project.