Los Angeles-based Maren Hassinger is an African American sculptor, performance, and installation artist whose work explores the intersection of race and landscape so that viewers can engage with the stories she tells. Her pieces are often made with gritty industrial materials such as galvanized wire, or found objects such as plastic objects, tree limbs, branches, leaves, dirt, or newspapers.
Hassinger tried to study dance as an undergraduate student at Bennington College in the mid-1960s, but the college steered her towards making sculpture. She was accepted into the Fiber Arts Program at U.C.L.A. where she received her M.F.A. degree. She became a fiber sculptor and chose wire rope as a favorite material. With wire rope, she could deal with issues of nature. The wire looked as if it was growing or blowing in the wind. She was able to “create a semblance of growing things” made entirely from the line of the wire. An educator, Hassinger taught at the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Dance and movement were the basis of her performance art. “Performance helps me to get away from traditional aesthetic notions “ as she communicates directly with the viewer. As a dancer and performance artist, she frequently collaborated with artist Senga Nengudi, and the two were involved in each other’s projects. She was one of the first Black women artists to exhibit at the ARCO Center for Visual Art, a nonprofit in Los Angeles. She was involved in a program that was organized through CETA (the Comprehensive Employment Training Act), the 1970s version of the WPA.
The sculptures of the conceptual artist Eva Hesse influenced her work. After viewing Hesse’s “Seven Poles,” Hassinger “felt she was looking at someone’s spirit made manifest . . . as though Hesse had put all the experience of her life into it.” And in the same vein Hassinger put her own life experience into her work.
Hassinger created a series of freeway-side sculptures, “Twelve Trees,” which are now a permanent part of Cal State Fullerton’s sculpture collections. The first project “Twelve Trees #1, 1978, was installed off the southbound Hollywood Freeway. It was a straight row of thick wire posts whose tops had been unraveled to look like branches reaching for the sky. The second “Twelve Trees #2,” 1979, stood for more than thirty years at the intersection of Mulholland Drive and Interstate 405.
Hassinger’s 2017 photograph “Whole Cloth” depicts a close-up view of interwoven fabrics in varying shades of beige and tan in a wavering imperfect grid. It suggests the warp and weft of the loom as the aesthetic framework for a grid and combines the sensuous and the abstract.
Hassinger is making a 6-foot- wide magenta Corian stone orb, “An Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love” as one of the outdoor sculptures for Destination Crenshaw, a 1.3-mile cultural corridor on Crenshaw Boulevard, which will celebrate Black Los Angeles. Her work will glow from within because of motion sensors and LED lighting around its perimeter. The piece will light up when people approach it. Her work is the most conceptually abstract of all the art shown on Crenshaw Boulevard, yet it will interact with people. Currently she is planning a large-scale installation for SoFi Stadium located in the mega-development, Hollywood Park.
Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, California African American Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, California State University, and Portland Museum of Art, and Cal State Fullerton.