Our Visionaries

Current Exhibition:

The Great Mystery Show

The Great Mystery Show

Oct 7, 2017–Sep 2, 2018

From psychics to physicists, The Great Mystery Show artfully peels away the veil of the unknown, playfully exploring mystery as that one secret power behind great art, science, and pursuit of the sacred.

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Arthur Hammer, El Martillo, 1997, Oil on canvas, Gift of Deirdre Hammer

Arthur Hammer

(1932–2012)

Arthur Hammer was born in 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio. His father sold tires, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Hammer, outgoing and extroverted, felt like a misfit in Cleveland and moved to New York City at the age of 18 to pursue an acting career. In New York, he also drove a cab and landed roles in various soap operas, sitcoms, commercials, and made-for-TV movies such as Rage of Angels, which starred Jaclyn Smith.

A self-taught artist, Hammer started painting in his mid-20s after his mother gave him a set of paints and eventually gave up acting to make art full-time. He befriended artist Romare Bearden, when the two men had studios on Long Island City, admired the portraiture of Alice Neel, and went on to develop a bold and evocative style of his own. "Everything he did was big, bold, colorful, and upbeat," notes his daughter, Deirdre, who says her father "lived a very hopeful life and was always jazzed about his work. He was also quite a ladies man and a consummate storyteller, who had a story for everything."

Of this particular piece, Deirdre notes that El Martillo translates to hammer, and her father certainly felt a kinship to the famed idealism of Don Quixote: "My father fought against windmills his entire life. And he was always looking out for the underdog and sticking up for the little guy." Hammer passed away in 2012, after a 20-year struggle with prostate cancer. El Martillo and three additional Hammer pieces are in AVAM's permanent collection.