Hyph3n-Art: Beyond Boxed Wine and Cheese Cubes

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I’m not the biggest fan of art shows.

It’s not that I don’t like good art or free wine. It’s that standing around intimidatingly hip, well dressed people looking solemnly at artwork makes me feel…. awkward.

Gallery openings at Hyph3n-Art are an entirely different beast.  This was made clear from the very beginning at their grand opening, Fete du Flambeaux: “We shut down the whole street. Walter made a fire angel, which is like a snow angel, but there’s a piece of wood underneath you and you’re on fire. We had fire performers, a DJ, and projection artists,” describes owner Carly Hammond. “You always know that you did it right when the next day City Hall gets a thousand emails about how you set somebody on fire.”  

The event showcased artist and stuntman Walker Babbington, who crafted said fire angel, along with a 20-foot outdoor installation, with blowtorches and flamethrowers.

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Hyph3n-Art is an art gallery for people who think they don’t like art galleries.  “We ask the artists to work during the show and allow us to turn it into an actual event, not just your typical gallery opening,” explains Hammond. “I’d rather create an environment where artists are participating in things that draw people in, versus throwing shows that only attract people who specifically go to art shows. I want to encompass everyone.”

“If they let me,” she adds. “They usually do if you give them good drinks and food.”

Take Hyphe3n’s current exhibition, Mass Casually, by Charles Beau Hoffacker.  Hoffacker, a NOPD Homicide Detective, is known for pieces that fuse elements of New Orleans tradition (Mardi Gras beads, crawfish, crosses) with images of criminal culture (AK-47’s, deceased gang members, etc.)

For the opening, Hammond evoked the feeling going to church with a play on taking communion. “When you came in, there was a shot of wine and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the shape of a wafer. The food was based on what would be at your aunt’s house after church on Sunday- Jambalaya and Zapps and spiked iced tea. I like it when the artists let me theme a show, even in the mildest way, and to do things that make people laugh, maybe offend some people, push the envelope a little bit.”

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Hammond and her partner, Oak Porcelli, founded Hyph3n this April with the intention of expanding the gallery into a quarterly arts magazine and artists’ residency with ties extending beyond New Orleans. “I would love to be viewed not just as a gallery in one location, but a branded company that is heavily based and tied to New Orleans but that shows up everywhere.”

True to its name, Hyp3n aims to hyphenate – to hyphenate art with the masses and the NOLA art scene with the rest of the world. As Hammond puts it, “I’d like to become a household name. Not in the upper echelons of art collecting, but in general. I’d like to bring art into more lives than the people at the top.”

Photography By: Justin Shiels

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