Since the start of his New York art career, David Hammons has used the exclusivity of the artworld and its having excluded African-Americans from the artworld for decades as one of his major motivations for the manner of his artistic practice. He did not have his first commercial gallery show in New York City until 1991, when he was 48, at the Jack Tilton gallery. Since then he has created performances, installations, sculpture and other art objects on the highest international plane. Hammons was born in Springfield, Illinois and lived in Los Angeles before moving to New York in 1974. He is known as the supreme Anti-Artist in the manner of Marcel Duchamp, and now is considered to be the most important African-American artist in the world. His most recent show at L&M Arts on the New York’s Upper East Side was a crowd pleasing yet head scratching sensation. He wrapped garbage bags over paintings and pushed a rank looking amour in front of one of them, causing the viewer to not be able to see the painting behind it in full.
From a 1986 Interview with David Hammons:
1. I CAN’T STAND ART ACTUALLY. I’VE NEVER, EVER LIKED ART, EVER. I NEVER TOOK IT IN SCHOOL.
2. WHEN I WAS IN CALIFORNIA, ARTISTS WOULD WORK FOR YEARS AND NEVER HAVE A SHOW. SO SHOWING HAS NEVER BEEN THAT IMPORTANT TO ME. WE USED TO CUSS PEOPLE OUT: PEOPLE WHO BOUGHT OUR WORK, DEALERS, ETC., BECAUSE THAT PART OF BEING AN ARTIST WAS ALWAYS A JOKE TO US.
WHEN I CAME TO NEW YORK, I DIDN’T SEE ANY OF THAT. EVERYBODY WAS JUST GROVELING AND TOMMING, ANYTHING TO BE IN THE ROOM WITH SOMEBODY WITH SOME MONEY. THERE WERE NO BAD GUYS HERE; SO I SAID, “LET ME BE A BAD GUY,” OR ATTEMPT TO BE A BAD GUY, OR PLAY WITH THE BAD AREAS AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
10. THE ART AUDIENCE IS THE WORST AUDIENCE IN THE WORLD. IT’S OVERLY EDUCATED, IT’S 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?
DAVID HAMMONS 1986
Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983)
Given his disinclination to offer explanations of what he does, it may or may not be paradoxical that Hammons is considered a conceptualist. What’s clear is that the mystification inherent in his down-home version of Beuysian shamanism—conjuring spirits with chicken bones and liquor bottles, human hair and inner tubes, sweatshirt hoods and basketball hoops—has always been undercut by a healthy dose of Duchampian irony as well as the sense of disdain that is perhaps proper to a black artist operating within, adjacent to and sometimes against a very white art world. In any case, the last thing you’d expect from an artist like Hammons is a show of abstract paintings—so of course that’s what he did at L&M, albeit abstract paintings in which most of the paint was kept well out of sight.” Barry Schwabsky on David Hammons L&M Arts show, 2011
From the Summer 2011 edition of Artforum magazine:
I was watching a video on YouTube in which Ornette Coleman presents a tune called “Spring” in Germany; he tells the audience, “Follow the idea of the song, not the song itself.” He also said, “Follow the idea, not the sound.” I was impressed with that. Follow how my ideas are put together, as opposed to whether the rainbow appears or the rain comes. I use this logic a lot. It moves in the realm of poetry as opposed to the actuality that people are used to or expect.
from the August 18, 1991 edition of the Los Angeles Times, by Amelia Wallach:
“Early in the ’70s he started spending more and more time in New York. He left Southern California for good shortly after his 1974 one-man show at Cal State L.A.
“I don’t go anywhere, I get pushed,” he says. “Don’t fight the feeling, as we say. From L.A. to New York. From mysticism to capitalism. I got tired of looking at the sunset.”
Last spring, Hammons had the satisfaction of turning down the Whitney Museum’s invitation to participate in its self-consciously multicultural 1991 Biennial–effectively torpedoing the exhibition’s claim to cover the top hits of the past two years. “I couldn’t wait to tell ’em no,” he says. “Their relationship with black artists has been negative since Day 1.”
And now he has received the official stamp of a “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation. The grant, $290,000 over five years, is to enable him to do whatever it is he does however he wants to do it, no strings attached.”
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications.
Soviet Space (2009) by Vincent Johnson