Steve Hampton: The Last Days of Empire

Steve Hampton's most recent body of work acknowledges one hard truth: all civilizations rise and all civilizations fall. With this in mind, The Last Days of Empire looks at the mass movements, political figures, and geopolitical conflicts that are making headlines today from the perspective of loss and melancholia. The images in this exhibition exist somewhere between Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, which is a figure that propels itself forward while looking backward at the path of destruction caused by the furious beating of its own wings, and Fredric Jameson’s notion of the political unconscious which acknowledges the libinal underpinnings of political actors. 

The first of these philosophical notions is implied by the paradox progress, which shows how economic and technological “development” is always already implicated in the cult of creative destruction. The second idea, which is Jameson’s political unconscious, works to expose the hidden hubris that allows us to believe that our socio-political identifications are composed of clear, obvious, and transparent ideological commitments instead of seeing how we are often caught up in the logic of in-groups and out-groups, the deification of the self and acts of self-othering, contradictory commitments and their unforeseen consequences. 

Beyond these ideas from modernism and postmodernism respectively, the selection of works included in The Last Days of Empire also posits a reversal of the perspective put forth by Hardt and Negri in their monumental trilogy, Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth, which defended the notion that Empire was the target of progressive politics. Today, the proliferation of disintegrating empires has replaced the threat of nuclear proliferation as the waning powers of cold-war politics haunt the political imaginary. Precarity, instability, and growing dissatisfaction with the status quo have left people around the world enthralled with new forms of dictatorial rule, where political figures have become part of the cult of celebrity and celebrities have come to function as the last figures of a free and unfettered capitalism, including those figures who have acquired wealth and power on par with that of a small nation state.

While the empires of the world still want to reign supreme, perhaps we should be asking if the idea of empire has become a brand, i.e., the reign of the last big brand names? And if this is true, then are the architectonics of a unipolar world being permanently disrupted by the emergence of multipolar powers? The images in The Last Day of Empire are not an answer to these questions but a hint of things to come, a warning about the days of futures past, and a last cry to live and think differently in a world that is once again beset by conflict between geopolitical powers.



Steven Hampton is a painter, writer, and art historian who lives and works in Los Angeles. He has had solo shows at Autonomie, Laurence Asher, and David Salow in Los Angeles and has been included in Oasis (Shangri-La Arts), Painting on Edge II (DEN Contemporary), The New Cool School (White Box Contemporary), The Subterraneans (Torrance Art Museum), The Status of Portraiture (Autonomie), and Politics as Unusual: Art at the Edge of Conspiracy (Fine Art Complex 1101). 

Hampton received his Master’s degree in art history from the University of California, Riverside in 2011, and wrote his thesis on kitsch and “Bad Painting.” He is currently pursuing his PhD at UCR, writing his dissertation on “Dictator Kitsch and the Iraq War.” He has curated shows around Los Angeles relating to themes of kitsch, monuments, and mourning, including Super-Salon (Flagstop), Traumatic Materiality (Autonomie), Savage Sentimentality (Torrance Art Museum), and Drawing Now (Cal State Northridge). 

Hampton was awarded the Karl and Beverly Benjamin Fellowship while at Claremont Graduate University, where he received his MFA in 2006. Hampton is also a graduate of the Art Center College of Design, receiving his BFA in 2003. He regularly lectures to professionals in the entertainment industry and has taught classes at the Art Center College of Design, Laguna College of Art and Design, California State University, Long Beach, Orange Coast College, Riverside Community College, and Mount San Antonio College. For several years he was a board member of the Foundation for Art Resources (FAR), helping to organize Pacific Non-Standard Time: FAR 1977-Present, FAR Bazaar, among other projects.



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