• David Hartt

  • About


    David Hartt (b. 1967, Montréal, Canada) has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including the Art Institute of Chicago; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Graham Foundation, Chicago; and LAXART, Los Angeles, among others. Recent group exhibitions include the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and Art Gallery of Ontario, among others. Hartt is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at The Glass House, New Canaan, CT. Two new commissions are now included in Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at MoMA, New York, and New Grit: Art & Philly Now at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (opening May 7th).


    Hartt’s work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, among others. Hartt lives and works in Philadelphia where he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • The Histories

    David Hartt (b. 1967)
    The Histories (Le Mancenillier), 2019
    portfolio of twelve archival pigment prints
    Image size, each: 16 x 24 in (40.6 x 61 cm)
    Sheet size, each: 17 x 25 in (43.2 x 63.5 cm)
    Edition of 10, with 2 AP
  • In the Forest


  • Borrowing its title from a chapter of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ 1955 memoir Tristes Tropiques, this multi-part installation continues Hartt’s investigation into the relationship between ideology, architecture, and the environment by revisiting architect Moshe Safdie’s unfinished 1968 Habitat Puerto Rico project.


    Begun just one year after the resounding success of Safdie’s visionary design for Habitat 67 in Montreal—a model housing development created for the Expo 67 World’s Fair—Habitat Puerto Rico was one of several Habitat housing developments that the architect designed for New York, Israel, and Singapore, among other cities. In Puerto Rico, the experimental housing development was designed to provide 800 low-cost dwelling units for moderate-income families in a system of stacked prefabricated concrete modules cascading down an undeveloped hill in the densely populated Hato Rey neighborhood of San Juan. The project was originally intended to occupy the Bosque Urbano de San Patricio, the former site of U.S. Navy housing, and now an overgrown tropical forest used as an urban park. Consistent with Safdie’s approach to other Habitat developments, Habitat Puerto Rico was designed to provide inhabitants with a sense of community, privacy, and access to green space, where each unit had a private garden and views of the city.


    When writing about the Puerto Rico project in Beyond Habitat (1970), Safdie titled the chapter “Breakthrough.” Following a number of false starts in other cities, Habitat Puerto Rico appeared to be the first viable project after the success of Habitat 67. However, a number of significant constraints shaped and the project. First, the size and flat, hexagonal form of the individual modules were necessary to make the concrete units transportable by highway or barge because it was not possible to build a factory in close proximity to the original site, as had been done in Montreal. Second, the economy of the project was dictated by a federal housing subsidy the developers used to finance the development. Unfortunately, despite the developments and innovations achieved in Habitat Puerto Rico, political and economic forces stopped the project early in its construction.


    Nearly fifty years after it was initiated, Hartt returns to the sites of Habitat Puerto Rico: the original wooded hillside of the Bosque Urbano de San Patricio; the alternate site for the project at Berwyn Farm in the Carolina municipality, just east of San Juan (where construction started after the original site was deemed untenable); and a number of remote sites around the island where modules have been abandoned or repurposed. Central to the exhibition is a meditative film that captures the remains of Safdie’s project. Featuring long takes of the weathered modules surrounded by the encroaching jungle, and environmental recordings layered with a composition by electronic musician Karl Fousek, Hartt’s piece offers a study of this unrealized experimental project—and the optimism from which it was conceived— recontextualized within the political and economic struggles of contemporary Puerto Rico.

  • The Republic

    Installation view, David Hartt: The Republic, David Nolan Gallery, New York, March 5 - April 25, 2014

  • As a point of departure, The Republic explores the proposed city plans of Greek urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis for both Athens and Detroit. In the early 1960s, Doxiadis was commissioned by the Greek military Junta to develop the master plan for Athens and to bring some order to the explosive post-war growth and urbanization the city was experiencing. In 1965, he was commissioned by Detroit Edison to lead the “Developing Urban Detroit Area Research Project.” The fall of the junta in 1974 and the Detroit riots of 1967 changed the historical trajectory of both cities and neither commission was realized.

    The artist’s ongoing inquiry into the ideological implications of the built environment engages a variety of media. Central to the exhibition is the film “The Republic,” shot in both Athens and Detroit. The footage, set to a score by Sam Prekop, is montaged so that the locations become indiscernible and a hybrid city-state emerges. Interspersed at random moments throughout the film is a group of laborers who flip an automobile in a winter landscape as both an invocation of the myth of Sisyphus and a reenactment of civil disorder. Elsewhere in the gallery, full scale cast bronze acanthus plants sprout from the floor, and on the wall is a photograph of a cat who has begun to disappear under the glare of sodium vapor lamps.

  • Belvedere

  • David Hartt on the Belvedere series

    The subject of the work is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy; a conservative free market think tank and the originators of the Overton Window. The title attempts to annex the Renaissance practice of using an architectural device to frame and order the natural environment. The Overton Window, another kind of framing device, is a public policy tool used to shift radical policy to actionable policy.


    In photographing an environment, one of the things that excites and interests me is the difference between the ideological potential of a site, and how the space actually defines itself—that gap between one’s experience of the space and one’s knowledge of the activities that actually go on there. What’s amazing about the physical structure of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is its ruthless efficiency. It’s the cockroach of architecture, highly adaptable and entirely lacking in affect, a clean room for ideas.


    What’s considered is how certain historical ideologies have become ordered, commodified and instrumentalized, occasionally even weaponized, as they’re selected and brought forward. Mutable, responsive and networked, the center acts as a clearing house for strategies: collecting, developing, articulating and then distributing specific responses to given social and economic conditions.

  • Stray Light

  • Stray Light includes a film displayed in a room carpeted in the style of his subject, the Johnson Publishing Company building in Chicago, as well as a group of photographs in an adjacent room. Granted unprecedented access to film and photograph in this John Moutoussamy–designed building after a long process of earning the trust of the owners, Hartt earnestly records the time-capsule nature of the space, which meticulously heeds to Arthur Elrod’s original 1971 interior design. The building was purpose-built as the headquarters of this important publishing company, made famous by its Jet and Ebony magazine titles and its role as a leading arbiter of African-American taste and culture during the latter half of the 20th century. Moutoussany was an African-American partner in the firm Dubin, Dubin, Black, and the eleven-story building has an iconic presence on South Michigan Avenue with its illuminated Ebony-Jet marquee at the top of the building. The interior of the building is a clear and exuberant expression of Black taste, resolutely modern, colorful, and complex, a pure expression of founder John Johnson’s vision of what a leading, Black-owned business can be.


    Founded in 1942, Johnson Publishing Company produces Ebony and Jet magazines as well as Supreme Beauty and Fashion Fair beauty products. Johnson’s wife and business partner Eunice established the Ebony Fashion Fair in 1958, an annual traveling fashion show that raises money for scholarships and charities in cities across the US and Canada. Eunice Johnson was a fashion icon, trendsetter, and taste maker, and over the years accumulated the largest collection of haute couture clothing in North America. Hartt’s new film and photographs are intimate portraits of the dreams and ideals of the Johnson family’s business which continue to exert a force in American culture under the leadership of the founder’s daughter Linda Johnson Rice. As the titles Jet and Ebony describe naturally occurring black materials, and Johnson publishing has used other names such as Tan, Hue, and Black Stars in other publications, Hartt has likewise chosen a title that comes from science to describe monochromatic frequencies. “Stray Light” is also a term used to refer to unpredictable light within a controlled environment, a fitting metaphor for this outside observer let into this inner sanctum of African American cultural history. His works raise questions about the commingling of the personal and the public, the narratives and ideologies that underlie the Johnson firm, and their lasting impact today. His project became even more poignant with the unexpected news that the building was sold in late 2010 and the company will relocate to another site. Thus, these careful portraits will also be lasting documents of the style and ethos of this unique work environment.