Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
After contributing $10 million to Albuquerque arts organizations, the Frederick Hammersley Foundation is primed for sunset.
As the world-renowned Albuquerque “hard-edged” painter dictated, all of his assets, including his home and its contents, are being transferred to the Albuquerque Community Foundation to continue that work. The Frederick Hammersley Foundation will close.
Hammersley died in 2009 at the age of 90, leaving artwork valued at $12 million, said Kathleen Shields,the Frederick Hammersley Foundation executive director and president.
“We’re giving away all the art – about 3,000 objects, including paintings, drawings and prints,” Shields said.
The change means visiting artists from the University of New Mexico Art Department can stay in Hammersley’s Nob Hill home, Albuquerque Community Foundation vice president Kelli Cooper said. The Frederick Hammersley Foundation also established the Frederick Hammersley Foundation for the Arts to continue awarding grants to local arts organizations in perpetuity.
The Frederick Hammersley Foundation most recently donated $60,000 in emergency relief funding to 516 ARTS’ Fulcrum Fund to help alternative, artist-run visual spaces in New Mexico that have lost funding during the pandemic. It gave $20,000 to the Albuquerque Museum in support of its visiting artist program and $15,000 to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation for the book project “Sharing Code: Frederick Hammersley and the Dawn of Computer Art.”
Hammersley was one of the first artists to design a computer program to produce art, Shields said.
“He’s gotten a lot of attention for his computer drawings done in 1969 with a computer and punch cards,” Shields said.
The Frederick Hammersley Foundation also has given $50,000 to New Mexico PBS over time, covering documentaries and the “COLORES!” series, which reaches approximately 650,000 households in central and northern New Mexico. In 2020, UNM’s Tamarind Institute received $52,500 in support for its artist residency program.
By all accounts, Hammersley was a character, as revealed in his home.
“People loved to go to the bathroom because he made this black and white checked wallpaper against the pink tile,” Shields said.
The artist splashed a kitchen wall with clouds and a blue sky above an oven.
“He always had art everywhere – by him and by others,” Shields added. “Every room had a nail with a yardstick hanging on it. For 50 years he documented everything he made in a notebook. He wrote every step of the process he used – the paint used, sketches and what he changed.
“He bought his house for $18,000,” she added.
Hammersley first gained recognition for his abstract paintings in 1959 when they were included in the exhibition “Four Abstract Classicists,” which originated in California and traveled to London and Belfast. The exhibition catalog first coined the phrase “hard-edged” painting to describe the flat, colored shapes with sharply delineated edges used in his work.
Hammersley studied traditional representational painting and drawing in California from about 1940-50, with a hiatus when he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he also visited the studios of Pablo Picasso, the sculptor Constanin Brâncusi and post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne and began experimenting with abstract imagery.
In 1968, Hammersley was invited to teach at the University of New Mexico. It was while he was teaching at UNM that he made some of the earliest computer art, reinvigorated his painting style, drew from life and traveled the state. He resigned in 1971 to devote himself to art full-time and continued to work for nearly four decades.
Over its first 10 years, the Frederick Hammersley Foundation worked to place the artist’s work in museum collections across the country through donation and in prestigious private collections through sales. Today his work hangs in the Getty Research Institute, the Archives of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Albuquerque Museum.