Hammer Projects: Diana Al-Hadid

Hammer Projects: Diana Al-Hadid

Sculptor Diana Al-Hadid constructs baroque architectural forms such as towers, labyrinths, and pipe organs that appear to be in a state of ruin. Using materials such as cardboard, plywood, plaster, and resin, Al-Hadid's sculptures are informed by an array of influences, both eastern and western—ancient Biblical and mythological narratives, Arabic oral traditions, Gothic architecture, iconic western painting, Islamic ornamentation, and scientific advances in physics and astronomy. For her first solo museum exhibition, Al-Hadid will be making a new piece inspired by the Islamic astronomer and inventor Al-Jazari's famous water clock built in 1206 and early Netherlandish Renaissance paintings.

Organized by Anne Ellegood, Hammer senior curator.


Diana Al-Hadid was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1981 and currently lives in Brooklyn. She received a BFA in sculpture and a BA in Art History from Kent State University (2003), an MFA in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (2005), and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine (2007). Al-Hadid’s work has been the subject of one-person exhibitions at Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York; Vox Populi, Philadelphia, PA; and Visual Arts Gallery, DePauw University, Greencastle, IN. Her work has been included in thematic exhibitions including Unveiled: New Art From the Middle East, The Saatchi Gallery, London; Disorientation II: the Rise and Fall of Arab Cities, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; New Weather, USF Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, FL; Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY; In the Between, Tabanlioglu Architects, Istanbul, Turkey; the Sharjah Biennial 9, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Hammer Projects: Diana Al Hadid is her first one-person museum exhibition.


By Anne Ellegood

My work is impure; it is clogged with matter. I’m for a weighty, ponderous art. There is no escape from matter. There is no escape from the physical nor is there any escape from the mind. The two are on a constant collision course. You might say that my work is like an artistic disaster. It is a quiet catastrophe of mind and matter. —Robert Smithson1

Diana Al-Hadid’s sculptures are like Robert Smithson’s “quiet catastrophes,” moments of disaster and decay frozen in time and space. She builds elaborate, intensely physical, large-scale sculptures of what she has called “impossible architecture” in various states of decline. Depicting forms more historical than contemporary—cathedral spires, classical columns, large pipe organs, and Gothic towers, which are often toppled, fractured, or burned—her sculptures suggest ruins from a distant past. And yet Al-Hadid’s interest in science—the big bang theory, speculations about black holes, and the transformation of matter through particle accelerators—and the works’ visual associations with the violent incidents that characterize current wars and political upheavals place these objects firmly in the present. Moreover, her fascination with science fiction and notions of time travel catapult her works into the future. Al-Hadid’s sculptures seem to traverse time, from the ancient to the present, along a long and sweeping trajectory.

For the past several years Al-Hadid has made discrete objects, larger than human scale yet situated in the middle of the gallery so that visitors can easily walk around them. The imposing Spun to the Limits of My Lonely Waltz (2006) is a charred and discolored cathedral turned on its head so that the typically transcendent spires become sharp daggers pushing into the ground. The Tower of Infinite Problems (2008) is in a further state of decomposition, the tower completely felled and broken apart, the crumbling facade revealing only the spiraling labyrinth structure beneath. For her exhibition at the Hammer Museum, Al-Hadid has chosen to create a multifaceted sculptural installation consisting of several interdependent parts, which occupies the entire gallery. Visitors physically enter the work rather than walking around its periphery and, in some sense, observe the work from within. Titled Water Thief, the sculpture is inspired by a water clock built in 1206 by Al-Jazari, a prominent engineer and inventor who lived in northeastern Syria, not far from the city of Aleppo, where Al-Hadid was born and lived until the age of five, when she immigrated to the United States with her family.2 

A consideration of time—particularly a collapsing of geologic and what we might call architectural time—has always been fundamental to Al-Hadid’s practice. During her research on the topic, she came across Al-Jazari’s name, prompting her to take up the subject more literally to explore early mechanisms used to track and tell time. Al-Jazari was the first person to engineer a clock that could adapt to the changing length of the days throughout the year and accurately record the passage of time. One of his water clocks, the Castle Clock, stood at over eleven feet high and was much more than a timekeeper. Among its other artistic, scientific, and mechanical features, this large sculptural object displayed the zodiac and lunar and solar orbits and included five hidden robotic musicians who, controlled by a system of levers attached to a waterwheel, would emerge periodically to play music. The sophisticated clock seemed to encompass everything from the practical to the amusing, accomplished through advanced mechanical engineering and expertise in astronomy.

 Finally, the Emancipation of Scheherazade  A Measure of Ariadne’s Love  The Thousand and One Nights  Water Thief

 Water Thief

 Water Thief  Allegory of Chastity

 Allegory of Chastity  Tower of Babel  Water Thief

 Water Thief



Hammer Projects is made possible with major gifts from Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. 

Additional generous support is provided by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Good Works Foundation and Laura Donnelley, L A Art House Foundation, the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund.

Hammer Projects: Diana Al-Hadid has also received support from Joel Portnoy.