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David Hammons (b. 1943)
David Hammons (b. 1943)
David Hammons (b. 1943)
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David Hammons (b. 1943)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
David Hammons (b. 1943)

Untitled

Details
David Hammons (b. 1943)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Hammons 04' (on the underside)
stone and hair
12 x 9 x 5 ¼ in. (30.5 x 22.9 x 13.3 cm.)
Executed in 2004.
Provenance
Private collection, New York
Private collection, New York
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 13 May 2015, lot 73
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
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Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

David Hammon’s Untitled is an important work by one of contemporary art’s most compelling and elusive figures. Despite a 50-year-long career, little is known about the artist himself, as he rarely gives interviews or attends gallery or museum openings. Yet his body of work is one of the most political and profound of any artist of his generation; he speaks to issues and themes that are—sadly—still as relevant today as they were half a century ago when Hammons first began his career. Deceptively simple yet profoundly moving, Hammon’s Untitled projects a powerful and emotional aura. Comprising of a stone the size of a human head stone and covered with hair collected from Harlem barbers’ shops, the tight black curls (occasionally interspersed with flecks of gray hair), complete with a parting styled by a barber’s clippers combine to resemble an actual haircut (Hammons used to take his rock heads to be styled by professional barbers). Despite being devoid of any obvious human features, Untitled is remarkably lifelike. However, if one looks at the surface long enough, you might find yourself projecting a mirage of facial features onto the natural marks on the surface.

Like many African American artists of his generation, Hammons was incensed not just at the lack of recognition for artists of color, but also for the wider diaspora as a whole. He studied at Chouinard (which later became the California Institute of the Arts), and the Otis College of Art and Design, where he met Charles White, who was a teacher there and would go on to become one of the most influential figures in his career. “I never knew there were ‘black’ painters, or artists, or anything until I found about him” Hammons once recalled. White encouraged Hammons to attend some night classes between 1968-72, and it was during this period that the younger artist began to work on the Body Prints that would launch his career (D. Hammons, quoted by C. Tomkins, “David Hammons Follows his own Rules,” The New Yorker, December 9, 2019, p. 55).

In order to produce these strikingly unique works, Hammonds would cover his head and body with margarine and then press the greased areas onto large sheets of paper and dusting the resulting impression with powdered pigment, thereby inserting his own body into the artistic canon. Sometimes he would add collaged elements, often referencing some form of racial oppression, for example Injustice Case, 1970, (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), includes references to the trial of Black Panther activist Bobby Seale at his trial for conspiracy and inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

While the Body Prints contain obvious references to specific people (be it Bobby Seale or the artist himself), much of Hammons’s art—including the Rock Heads—seeks to represent the wider community. As curator Elena Filipovic explains, the central concern of the artist’s practice is about identity. “Hammons isn’t making art centered around a mystical narrative of the singular artist… Instead of an individual myth, Hammons deliberately references something larger than himself: a history of blackness, a history of race relations; which is nothing less than a history of America itself, as told through the forms, symbols, materials and products of the African diaspora in the US” (E. Filipovic, David Hammons: Bliz-aard Ball Sale, London, 2017, p. 92).

From the very beginning of his career, Hammons was intent on trying to change the way we look at a work of art. He possess an insatiable curiosity, and sees value and inspiration in everything. “David would spend hours and hours on the street, watching people and letting it all filter through to him,” recalled Linda Good Bryant, the New York gallerist who gave Hammons his first show in 1975. “Hammons’s uncanny ability to put found objects together in ways that evoked meaning and emotion was reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s early work” writes Calvin Tomkins. “He believed there was spiritual energy in everyday elements of black street culture” (C. Tompkins, op. cit.).

This is one reason why the hair that adorns Untitled is so powerfully symbolic. The way each of us wears our hair is unique and often becomes a highly individualized reflection of our personalities. This has become particularly so in the African American community where women have a long and complex relationship with how they style their hair. The same is often true for African American men and the barber shop often became the center of the community, a place where men would gather to meet, talk and hang out with their friends. It is no coincidence that the hair for Untitled, along with the other Rock Heads, was all collected from barbers that Hammons knew and frequented in Harlem. Indeed, the artist acknowledged the importance of this unique media l in 1986, when he told an interviewer “I was actually going insane working with hair… That’s how potent it is” (D. Hammons, op. cit.).

The significance of Hammons’s work undoubtedly lies in its ability to straddle so many seemingly incongruous genres, incorporating aspects of performance art, action painting, Arte Povera, Conceptual art, Dada and Art Brut while seizing upon highly-charged objects imbued with deep cultural and societal significance. In Untitled, Hammons deliberately selects discarded and normally overlooked materials to produce a work of haunting presence. In doing so, he knowingly brings the grit and grime of the city streets into the otherwise pristine atmosphere of the gallery space, while allowing his spirit of improvisation and chance to play a fundamental role in his work. Inspired by the 1960s Italian Arte Povera movement with its use of everyday materials to create metaphorical imagery, Untitled embodies a strikingly elegant human form with remarkable simplicity, roughness, and asymmetry. Reminiscent of prehistorical remains and Brancusi’s Modernist shiny heads, the stone is topped with the overlooked remnants of a barber shop. In a rare interview the artist granted to New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl in 2002, Hammons said “I decided a long time ago that the less I do the more of an artist I am” (D. Hammons, quoted in P. Schjeldahl, “The Walker,” New Yorker, December 23, 2002).

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