Exhibit | David Hammons: Five Decades

Over the past five decades, David Hammons has grown to become one of the most innovative and influential artists of our time. David Hammons: Five Decades, a career survey, is on now view at Mnuchin Gallery, New York, through May 27, 2016. Organized with Hammons’ support, this will be the first exhibition of its kind in over twenty years, and will trace the evolution of the artist’s entire oeuvre from the late 1960s to the present day.

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Born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1943, Hammons began his career as an artist in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. His work reflects the impact of the spirit of the times and his commitment to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, as well as the found-object assemblages of Dada and the humble materials of Arte Povera.

David Hammons, Untitled, 2013, glass mirror with wood and plaster frame, fabric, 75 1/2 x 38 x 11 1/2 inches (191.8 x 96.5 x 29.2 cm).

David Hammons, Untitled, 2013, glass mirror with wood and plaster frame, fabric, 75 1/2 x 38 x 11 1/2 inches (191.8 x 96.5 x 29.2 cm).

Hammons arrived in New York City in 1974, bringing a fresh perspective to the art world, creating creates work that addresses the experiences of African American life and the role that race plays in American society. In his breakout body of work, the body prints of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hammons created life-sized depictions of his own face and figure by coating his skin and hair with margarine, pressing his greased body onto paper, then covering the imprint with pigment powder. He then paired these body prints with politically charged symbols, such as spades and the American flag.

Never one to serve the status quo, by the mid-1970s, Hammons abandoned the format of two-dimensional, framed works hung flat on a wall, in part as a rejection of the status quo of the predominantly-white art market. He then began devoting himself exclusive to (often ephemeral) sculptural assemblage, installation, and performance made from materials recycled found objects specifically associated with urban African American life: chicken bones, bottles of cheap wine, paper bags, and hair swept from the floors of black barber shops. Where critics at the time thought these objects were evocative of the desperation that poverty ingrains, Hammons saw a sacred power if the objects that he continuously released, shining light in corners the art world didn’t want to see.

David Hammons, Untitled, 2008-14, acrylic on canvas with plastic netting, 80 x 70 inches, (203.2 x 177.8 cm) (canvas size). Courtesy Mnuchin Gallery.

David Hammons, Untitled, 2008-14, acrylic on canvas with plastic netting, 80 x 70 inches, (203.2 x 177.8 cm) (canvas size). Courtesy Mnuchin Gallery.

By the 1980s, Hammons was known for his public sculptures and installations on the streets, featuring found materials of the streets. Among these works is Higher Goals (1986), a group of five, 20-30-foot tall telephone poles topped with basketball hoops and covered in mosaics of discarded beer bottle caps. Commissioned by the Public Art Fund, Higher Goals made early reference to the hoop dreams that have fueled countless black boys’ dreams. He also created two other series, Basketball Drawings and Basketball Chandeliers, to continue exploring this idea.

David Hammons: Five Decades will include examples from Hammons’ major series from the past five decades, including early paintings, Body Prints, found-object assemblages such as the Heads, Basketball Drawings, and Basketball Chandeliers, as well as his more recent series: Kool-Aids, Tarps, and Mirrors. “As an artist you have to reinvent yourself,” Hammons reveals, and as we see with every decade, a new vision emerges.

Credits: All artwork © David Hammons. All photos Tom Powel Imaging, Inc.. Courtesy Mnuchin Gallery.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.