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september 10, 2021 - White Cube

TEFAF Online: David Hammons

White Cube Online and TEFAF Online:
8 September – 13 September 2021

White Cube presents a solo booth of works by #davidhammons as part of TEFAF Online. The presentation brings together three key examples of Hammons’ artworks spanning four decades of his prolific career, and reflect his interest in confronting cultural stereotypes and upending mainstream visual language.

The three #davidhammons artworks presented at TEFAF Online span four decades of the artist’s prolific career, and reflect his interest in confronting cultural stereotypes and upending mainstream visual language. Producing tongue-in-cheek, unpredictable and conceptually brilliant works from seemingly commonplace and banal materials, Hammons poses a continuous challenge to normative art practice. Through his signature use of found materials, Hammons repurposes the detritus of urban life and transforms it into prints, drawings, performances, video, sculpture and painting. Akin to alchemy, as the artist said to Laura Hoptman (MoMA, Curator of Painting and Sculpture), ‘outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol’.

Hammons began his artistic career in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, where he briefly attended courses at Los Angeles City College and the Los Angeles Trade and Technical College before taking night classes at Otis Art Institute under the tutelage of Charles White, a highly regarded artist and political activist. To challenge contemporary stereotypes surrounding the representation of black bodies, Hammons started greasing his own body (or that of another person) with substances such as margarine and baby oil, and then used this to create impressions of various body parts on a paper surface, dusting them with charcoal or powdered pigment to resolve and secure the human trace. Untitled (Penis Print) (1969–73) is one such work; asserting the presence of the artist himself as well as the black male body in general, it is a study in race and sexuality, masterfully balancing the performative with the self-representational. 

His work is equally inspired by the subjects as well as artifacts of contemporary black life in the United States. Hammons moved to New York in the mid-1970s, and finding inspiration in the community of Harlem, began creating artworks from discarded objects he had gathered. He is deeply affected by Marcel Duchamp’s readymades – ordinary manufactured objects that the artist modified and presented as art. By simply choosing objects and repurposing them, he challenged the traditional view of the artist’s role as a skilled creator of original handmade objects. 

When Hammons moved to New York in the mid-1970s, he found particular inspiration in the Harlem community and sought to create artworks from the discarded objects and detritus he gathered up as he moved around the city. Untitled (1976/77) – comprised of pipe cleaner, hair, rope and thumb track amongst other things – epitomises Hammons’ creative use of the most insubstantial group of materials. From these, Hammons’ has composed a fragile, relic-like object that is wall mounted and exudes an animalistic charge.

Influenced by Marcel Duchamp and his readymades, as well as the Italian Arte Povera movement of the late-1960s and 1970s, Hammons has consistently worked with a wide range of unconventional materials and processes, inherently symbolic yet materially open-ended.  Most iconic of all was his 1983 Bliz-aard Ball Sale, when he peddled snowballs of different sizes on the streets of Manhattan. 

The influence of Duchamp as well as that of other Dada artists also manifests in Hammons’ Fly Jar (1998). The Dadaists often challenged and manipulated the rules, syntax and symbols of language, to create artworks and performances that are satirical and nonsensical in nature but often political in impetus. With Fly Jar, Hammons creates a microcosm within a glass jar; the mesh and wire covering it is reminiscent of a child’s makeshift bug terrarium, while the title seemingly references a jar of fireflies.