DAVID HAMMONS (B. 1943)
DAVID HAMMONS (B. 1943)
DAVID HAMMONS (B. 1943)
6 More
DAVID HAMMONS (B. 1943)
9 More
DAVID HAMMONS (B. 1943)

Untitled

Details
DAVID HAMMONS (B. 1943)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Hammons 04' (on the reverse)
wall-mounted sculpture comprised of 13 African masks, wood, metal, wire, rope, straw and mirror
39 x 11 x 55 in. (99.1 x 27.9 x 139.7 cm.)
Executed in 2004.
Provenance
Private collection, acquired directly from the artist
Anon. sale; Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, 17 May 2007, lot 15
Private collection, Switzerland
Literature
M. Diawara and T. Geis, "The New Sacred Since André Breton and Édouard Glissant," Arts & Cultures, no. 21, 2020, pp. 78-79 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

David Hammons’s totemic sculpture is a powerful talisman that projects the spiritual, cultural and aesthetic embodiment of the artist’s career. Under Hammons’s astute eye, an apparently rudimentary assemblage of discarded ephemera becomes imbued with a new and powerful narrative. The artist is able to seamlessly fuse life and art by incorporating previously used objects into new forms, imbuing his new sculptures with the patina of their unsung histories. Rejecting the hierarchical ethos of ‘the fine arts,’ Hammons celebrates the everyday, giving each work a new sense of worth and identity. “The art audience is the worst audience in the world,” Hammons has said. “It’s overly educated, its conservative, it’s out to criticize, not to understand, and it never has any fun. Why should I spend my time playing to that audience? The street audience is much more human, and their opinion is from the heart. They don’t have any reason to play games; there’s nothing gained or lost” (D. Hammons, quoted by I. Blazwick & E. Dexter, ’Rich in Ruins,’ Parket 31, 1992, p. 26).

Protruding out nearly five feet from the wall, Untitled weaves together object, narrative, and form. African masks, painted wooden sticks, bouquets of rope, carved African figures, a plastic mirror, and even a stylized wooden car are all brought together, fastened by a network of wire ties and fastenings. Hammons recovered each of these objects after they were discarded by a previous owner; rejected and potentially at the end of their useful life, in Hammons hands, they have come alive again, but this time with a new and exciting narrative. “Hammons’ use of grimy and the second-hand is both jarring and affective. Not only does his use of detritus spring from a street aesthetic, it’s also provides the richest possible sources for historical, cultural and social meaning. He lets the dirt and age tell narratives of heterogeneity and diversity ”(I. Blazwick and E. Dexter, ’Rich in Ruins,’ Parket 31, 1992, p. 27).

In addition to creating new narratives, with a work such as Untitled, Hammons is also subverting existing ones, particularly in the realm of traditional sculpture. By removing this sculptural form from its pedestal and placing it on the wall, the artist is elevating his work to primacy of painting, traditionally the highest form of fine art. Also, with this particular orientation, Untitled also begs association with the grotesque taxidermized heads of big game animals that have adorned the walls of large country houses, and were for many, the only visible associations with the African continent during colonial (and even post-colonial) times, adding a biting political dimension to this work.

“The art audience is the worst audience in the world. It’s overly educated, its conservative, it’s out to criticize, not to understand, and it never has any fun. Why should I spend my time playing to that audience? The street audience is much more human, and their opinion is from the heart. They don’t have any reason to play games; there’s nothing gained or lost.” David Hammons

Born in Springfield, Illinois in 1943, Hammons moved to Los Angeles in 1962, where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (now Cal Arts) and the Otis Art Institute. In Los Angeles, the artist produced the monoprint series Body Prints that would gain him widespread recognition; around the same time, he became interested in the Black Power and the Black Arts movements to which his work would become devoted. In 1974, Hammons put down roots in Harlem in New York, where he created well-known street art pieces and became a central figure in the city’s black avant-garde art scene. He began to explore found-object sculptures in the late 1970s, taking
cheap and discarded items from predominantly lower-class, African-American communities— elephant dung, Afro hair, chicken bones, and cheap wine bottles—and bringing them into the gallery space via sculptural works. Maternity falls into this iconic strain of Hammons’s Duchampian-style work: not quite readymades, but found objects juxtaposed in politically and visually provocative ways. While the notoriously elusive and context-sensitive Hammons has tended to avoid retrospectives since his major show at MoMA PS1 in 1991—the same year he was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant—London’s White Cube gallery managed to exhibit his oeuvre in a 2014 survey show. In a supposedly modern age in which global race relations remain deeply troubling, Hammons’s intriguing and critical usage of Conceptual art’s toolbox for a sociological purpose isn’t only fascinating: it’s urgent.

Untitled constructs a space within which Hammons confronts not only the viewer’s notions of the African diaspora in a contemporary context, but one in which they are challenged to reassess the usefulness of any separation between art and life. Yet despite its uncanny otherness, Untitled is deeply linked to the network of societal signs whose referents are as varied and their meanings as multivalent as they are hermetic and contingent. Untitled demonstrates “Hammons belief in the art object to do more than sit mutely, [but more,] to be a catalyst or an activator of universal thought…” (F. Sirmans, “Searching for Mr. Hammons,” David Hammons: Selected Works, New York, 2006, n.p.).

More from 21st Century Evening Sale

View All
View All