L.A. Object & David Hammons Body Printsby: Connie Rogers Tilton
“I can’t stand art actually. I’ve never, ever liked art, ever.”
IN 2006, THE HARLEM ART SPACE Triple Candie hosted an exhibition they called David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective. After five years of trying to get the locally based Hammons to show in one capacity or another, the nonprofit gallery put together "the most comprehensive assembly ever either in exhibition or book form" of the artist's work.
The trouble or the boon (depending on your stance) was that there was no actual artwork by Hammons on display. Instead, Triple Candie showed 95 bare-bones reproductions: four decades of greased bodies, bottle caps, chicken wings, brown bags, basketballs, snowballs, and barbershop cuttings reduced to photocopies and computer printouts taped to plywood. Rumors began to fly that Hammons was outraged. Alternatively, some whispered that the inscrutable artist, often accused of pulling the wool over his audience's eyes, was once again mocking our perennial blindness. In the end, the exhibition was exactly what it purported to be — unauthorized — but the gesture perfectly aligned with Hammons' ongoing assault on the conditions of making and showing art (especially while black) in our hyper-consumerist society.
In a 1986 interview with Kellie Jones, recently republished in her book EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art, Hammons states plainly, "I can't stand art actually. I've never, ever liked art, ever." Yet all these years he's kept making it, and continually found ways to remind us of this old avowed hatred, not only through what could be termed his "art of protest" but also through his performance of the artist's role. As curator, Okwui Enwezor pointed out in Artforum:
Hammons is legendary for his style of public refusal, reticence, and shallow distance from conventional art-world celebration. One might view this absence as a carefully staged form of visibility, understanding Hammons's stance as its own performance, a form of asceticism that stokes an ever-greater desire for his rare exhibitions.
It is precisely this rarity that makes any book on the artist feel like a gift. L.A. Object & David Hammons Body Prints is the most thorough examination to date of Hammons's early work and features installation shots, ephemera, and many never-before-published photographs of Hammons in the studio, including images from the La Salle Avenue space he shared with Senga Nengudi. It's an incredibly impressive book, but also a problematic one, in part because there have been so few monographs devoted to Hammons. As the catalogue acknowledges, it began as a project to research the artist's body prints from his time in Los Angeles during the 1960s and early '70s and then "quickly expanded into an exploration of Hammons's peers, their work, and a more general investigation into the art produced in Los Angeles by African-American and multicultural artists during this period."
As an exhibition, L.A. Object — which debuted at Tilton Gallery in New York in 2006 and then traveled to Roberts & Tilton in Los Angeles in 2007 — could be considered revelatory in any context, let alone that of a commercial gallery. Dealer Jack Tilton, who met Hammons in 1976 shortly after he arrived in New York, was granted unparalleled access to the artist's body prints. True to their name, Hammons used his ...read more