Icons in Ash: Cremation Portraits

Share this



Tuesday, 13 December 2016 to Sunday, 7 May 2017
Tuesday, 13 December 2016 - 6:30pm

Keyword ( Tags ):

Ubu Gallery is pleased to announce the debut exhibition of Heide Hatry’s extraordinary new body of work, Icons in Ash: Cremation Portraits. The portrayal of the human image arose many millennia ago precisely for the purpose of keeping the dead among us. Not just in memory, but in charged ceremonial objects that were intended to embody and preserve their spirits for their survivors and for the community as a whole. It was a way of integrating the inexplicable fact of death into life, of insuring that the dead and what they meant stayed present and abided in us. Heide Hatry, an intellectually challenging German visual artist working in New York, has created a new technique and purpose for portraiture, employing actual human ashes to create meditative images of deceased people, either at their own behest or that of their families.

The exhibition is particularly relevant and timely in light of the Vatican’s response on October 25th to what it called an “unstoppable increase” in cremation and its issuance of guidelines barring the scattering of ashes “in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way.” The Vatican decreed that the ashes of loved ones have no place in the home, and certainly not in jewelry. While the Vatican was silent on the use of ashes in painting, we can assume that Hatry’s work falls outside its newly articulated “canonical norms” and within its idea of “unfitting or superstitious practices.”

The project is accompanied by the book publication, Heide Hatry: Icons in Ash, in which twenty-seven contributing authors, including Siri Hustvedt, Lydia Millet, Rick Moody, Mark Dery, Peter Weibel, Eleanor Heartney, Steven Pinker, Hans Belting, Wolf Singer, and Luisa Valenzuela have offered a multiplicity of perspectives on the human relationship to death. These cover a wide range of topics, from art history through anthropology, psychology, philosophy, semiotics, ecology, and beyond, as well as discussing death taboos, post-mortem practices, personal experience, the impact of the relic and more. A social, deeply humanistic, and an aesthetic project, Icons in Ash, proposes an alternative to the way we see and interact with death, in particular a radically different approach to mourning and consolation, as well as to how we understand the purpose of art at its most fundamental level.

The exhibition can be viewed from December 8, 2016 to March 7, 2017 at Ubu Gallery, which is located at 416 East 59th Street in Manhattan. An opening reception will be held on December 13, 2016 from 6:30–8:30PM.

During the run of the exhibition, panel discussions, readings, concerts, conversations, and spoken word performances relating to death, including both participating authors and others, will take place at a number of locations throughout New York City. The events and their details will be announced on both Ubu Gallery’s and the artist’s websites.

For further information or images, please contact Ubu Gallery at 212 753 4444 or email info@ubugallery.com

Heide Hatry

Unlike the traditional means of memorializing the dead in art, these human ash portraits propose an intimate and direct means of engaging their memory, and their substance, rather than the fairly detached, abstract, heroic, or clinical approaches that have typified modern western art and funerary practice. Three different techniques have been used to create slightly different effects:
(a) Loose ash particles from the person depicted (combined with pulverized birch coal and white marble dust) are applied in a painstaking mosaic process into slightly heated beeswax, bedding the ash gently into the wax.
(b) Ink drawings or air-brush paintings are created directly upon a pure and slightly uneven ash surface.
(c) Ink drawings or air-brush paintings are created upon an emulsion of ashes and binder, giving the portrait the feeling and texture of a fresco mural painting.


Heide Hatry is a New York based German artist, often described as neo-conceptualist, whose work transforms, transcends, or transgresses the customary relationship of artist to both audience and art. Among her fundamental preoccupations are identity, gender roles, the nature of aesthetic experience and the meaning of beauty, the effects of knowledge upon perception, and the human exploitation of the natural world. She studied and taught art at various schools in Germany while simultaneously conducting an international business as an antiquarian bookseller. She has curated numerous exhibitions, has shown her own work at museums and galleries around the world, has created nearly two hundred artist's books and edited more than two dozen printed books and art catalogs. Skin (2005), Heads and Tales (2009), and Not a Rose (2012) both document her own art and amount to collaborative conceptual artist's books involving some of the most interesting thinkers and authors in the world.


Founded in 1994, Ubu Gallery has presented more than 75 exhibitions of 20th Century avant-garde art, with an emphasis on the inter-war period of the 1920s-1930s, particularly the Dada, Surrealist, and Constructivist movements. Ubu exhibits paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, and ephemera (books, posters, graphic design, etc.) and, wherever possible, highlights the interrelationships among these art forms.

Ubu Gallery is a well-known presence on the international cultural scene and enjoys a worldwide reputation for its serious explorations of areas covered by few other galleries, including acclaimed survey exhibitions of Polish, Romanian and Czech avant-garde art. Ubu’s focus on the avant-garde, particularly on historically important artists and movements that have not received appropriate attention, has earned the gallery frequent reviews in press throughout the world focused on the visual arts. Ubu participates in the most important Parisian art fair, FIAC, held annually in the Grand Palais, as well as the encyclopedic Frieze Masters fair showcasing the best of antiquities to modern art, in Regent’s Park in London.

Add new comment

Joshua Tree Artist Residency 2018
08/01/2017 to 01/10/2018
Alto Kirchhoff - 'By the Sea' - Painting
07/27/2017 to 09/10/2017
Thoralf Knobloch - Uferweg Nord
07/22/2017 to 08/28/2017
Call for Art – Online Solo Art Exhibition Opportunity
08/04/2017 to 09/05/2017
ARTIST AS SUBJECT: 20th Anniversary Exhibition
07/15/2017 to 09/02/2017
L.A Dulcepalloza 2017
08/05/2017 to 08/27/2017
Chelsea International Fine Art Competition Exhibition: The Best of 2017
08/19/2017 to 08/30/2017
Werner Widmer. SPLASH!
08/10/2017 to 08/27/2017
On Belonging and the Void Between
07/08/2017 to 08/31/2017