In his works, Brad Kahlhamer often explores what he refers to as the “third place,” or the “meeting point of opposing personal histories.” By drawing from his Indigenous heritage and his adoptive German American family, Kahlhamer rearranges the vocabulary of German Expressionism, Indigenous imagery and his adult life on New York City’s Lower East Side. In spring of 2019, Kahlhamer was invited to participate in an exhibition at the Indigenous-run LOOM Indigenous Art Gallery in Gallup, New Mexico. This experimental space is adjacent to the concentration of trading posts in downtown Gallup, and as such it acts as antidote to the colonial commodification that occurs through trading post culture. Kahlhamer’s watercolor and ink-on-paper work 36 Hours in Gallup takes its title from the New York Times Travel Section series “36 Hours In,” in which authors travel to various locations and spend 36 hours building and creating memory and moments. However, when you apply that armature to Gallup, as the artist states, “it opens up a full other set of circumstances.” Gallup is a border town located near the Arizona-New Mexico state line and the border between the United States and the Navajo Nation. There lies a contested nature to the landscape of Gallup, one that is based on its Indigeneity, and one that is resultant from colonialism, trading post and Route 66 culture, a general commodification of and/or ignorance to Indigenous culture and experience. The work, which features a quasi–self-portrait of the artist central in the frame, acts as a psychological sitemap of both the artist and of Gallup. In the conceptual framework of the work, Kahlhamer plays with the trope of touristic paper placemats found in many casual-dining establishments which are often filled with points of interest of the area, advertisements from local businesses and maps; however, this is subverted by inserts of Indigenous iconography, such as directional crosses and Kokopelli, various abstracted cliff formations, and the artist’s own visage to relate to the uneasiness he felt in regard to sustained occupation of these lands.
Brad Kahlhamer is an artist working in a range of media, including sculpture, drawing, painting, performance, and music, to explore what he refers to as the “third place”—a meeting point of two opposing personal histories. Reimagining a subjective vocabulary through a neo-expressionist lens, his work references hallmarks of 20th century abstract painting, such as German Expressionism, while incorporating a highly personal iconography. Drawing on his tripartite identity, Kahlhamer’s work navigates his Native American heritage, adoptive German-American family and adult life in New York City’s Lower East Side. His initial work as an illustrator at Topps Comics, early exposure to Native American ledger drawings (which he considers to be America’s first graphic novels), and the artistic milieu of downtown Manhattan shapes the language of his paintings and drawings. While referencing Native American history and culture, his work explores his own displaced identity and straddles notions of authenticity and representation within the discourse of Native American art. Kahlhamer’s work has been exhibited in the United States and internationally, including at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, LOOM Indigenous Art Gallery, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Museé du Quai Branly, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kahlhamer has received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Visual Arts Grant, Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant.