Hammy Wammy is an art space and photography studio in North Side Chicago. After it opened last year in Uptown, the space began attracting fashionistas whose personal aesthetics are in line with Hammy Wammy’s artistic vision: a strange brew of Grace Jones, David Lynch, and Andrea Branzi. It isn’t named after a wealthy benefactor or a verbose post-structuralist philosophical concept. But, rather, its moniker comes from the 11-year-old stepson of Meg Gustafson, Hammy Wammy’s curator and creative director.
The gallery is sponsored by Jonathan Solomon, an architect and faculty member at SAIC and Gustafson’s partner. Hammy Wammy’s jovial name is fitting given the postmodern lacquer Meg Gustafson and co-designer Amber Mortensen applied in its staging when it opened in 2023. The great practitioners of postmodernism—whether they be architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, the Memphis School, or artist Antoni Meraldi—were known for collapsing high-brow and low-brow into singular ensembles that double as tongue-in-cheek criticism of the modern movement’s seriousness. Hammy Wammy’s architects should be understood in this lineage of prior interlocutors who took having fun seriously.
Meg Gustafson works full time for the Chicago Planning Department. But AN readers may recognize her from another venture: Gustafson runs the 80s_Deco Instagram account that features all things ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s because, as she put it, “good taste is boring.”
At Hammy Wammy, Gustafson puts her postmodern proclivities into practice. The gallery has three rooms with neon, murals that pay homage to postmodern demigods like Aldo Rossi, and a stage for modeling; all sited in a pre-war, 1,200-square-foot storefront in Uptown. Hand-cut column capitals were made by artist Jam Cole, inspired by Grace Jones’s iconic profile. The eight-person dining room is eponymously dedicated to British filmmaker Peter Greenaway—director of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover—who, like his contemporary David Lynch, got his start as a painter. Curators from PHX Gallery, another Chicago exhibition space, helped in the Greenaway Room’s staging.
The Baroque optical illusions on display at Hammy Wammy contort perception while evoking Pee Wee’s Playhouse. And the design itself is in direct confrontation to what’s in vogue. “I feel like I had a fifteen year journey of me getting sick of midcentury modernism,” Gustafson told AN Interior. “I felt like shouting at the TV when Mad Men debuted. Why didn’t people appreciate this aesthetic before Mad Men? Midcentury modernism was always good, but now we’re over saturated with it.”
In confrontation to the Mad Men–ification of interiors post-Don Draper, Gustafson works hard to change the tides of taste. “After Prince died, I remember there was an exhibition for him on Michigan Avenue,” Gustafson said, retelling the origins of the 80s_Deco account now replete with 74,000 followers. “I went and remember seeing tacky shit, like fake neon, fabric paper, a bear light bulb in a room painted purple where they wheeled in a motorcycle. It was so lazy, and people were spending $100 to see it. A friend said to me, ‘Oh my God, you could have designed that better!’” Gustafson said. “Seeing so much bad stuff out there, it inspired me to do it in a new way.”
The ephemera on display at Hammy Wammy was previously sited in Gustafson’s old house in Bridgeport, South Side, Chicago. It even features new materials like red, blue, and yellow glass blocks from a past show at Jonathan Solomon’s downtown gallery, Space p11. Thus, Hammy Wammy is both a provocation to contemporary design trends and an experimental testing ground for future ideas that’s constantly changing. Gustafson adds, “Whenever I get bored of the space, I just go on 80s_Deco to find inspiration and switch things up.”