David Hammons - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 18, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Amsterdam, Museum Overholland, Black USA, April 7 - July 29, 1990
    New York, The Museum of Modern Art, OPEN ENDS: Pop and After, September 28, 2000 - January 2, 2001 (another example exhibited)
    New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art from the Collection, June 30, 2010 - September 19, 2011 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    Kirk Varnedoe, Paola Antonelli, Joshua Siegel, eds., Modern Contemporary: Art at MoMA Since 1980, New York, 2000, no. 287, pp. 272, 545 (another example illustrated)
    The Color Line: African-American Artists and Segregation, exh. cat., Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, 2017 (another example illustrated on the cover)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "African-American Flag is not only an artwork, it is a flag for a new nation, a flag for a new insight, it is a new flag for a new form and a new truth. David Hammons creates a new truth - what more can art do?” (Thomas Hirschhorn, “Thomas Hirschhorn David Hammons Quote” Stiftung Sommerakademie im Zentrum Paul Klee Reader, Bern, 2016, online)

    A striking emblem charged with fervor and wit, David Hammons’ African-American Flag, 1990, is an iconic artwork by the artist. One of the most widely recognized works from his remarkable career, this particular example was included in the ground-breaking exhibition, Black USA at Museum Overholland, Amsterdam, 1990, where it was first raised in the heart of Amsterdam’s Museumplein. Originally produced in an edition of only five, other examples from the edition are housed in the collection of the artist and of The Collection Over Holland, as well as in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Among the most important and fascinating oeuvre of our time, Hammons’ works form part of the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Hirshhorn Sculpture Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Cambridge; Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris; and Tate Modern, London.

    Executed in 1990, African-American Flag corresponds with a pivotal moment in history, coinciding with Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island and the election of David Dinkins as the first and only black mayor of New York City. Having been awarded the American Academy in Rome Prize, Hammons was working in Europe when an encounter with the renowned curator Christiaan Braun led to Hammons’ decision to create this exceptional work of art for the upcoming Black USA exhibition at the celebrated Museum Overholland in Amsterdam. The following year Hammons was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” in recognition of his career and contributions to African American cultural identity.

    The Black USA exhibition represents a watershed moment in art history. In his influential and visionary role as director and curator of Museum Overholland (1987–1990), Braun organized a series of high-profile exhibitions of artists such as Gerhard Richter, Roy Lichtenstein, Thomas Schütte, Frank Stella, Paul Cézanne, Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Bourgeois, and Marlene Dumas. Having identified a significant lack of exposure of African American artists in Europe, Braun set out to present an exhibition in honor of African American artists. After an in-depth investigation through America, he decided on seven artists including Hammons, as well as Jules Allen, Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Martin Puryear, and Bill Traylor. Each artist was selected to convey a distinct message: Allen as the photographer of black culture, of boxers and “Hats and HatNots”; Andrews as the black “protester”, Puryear as the first black artist to represent the United States at a major international art exhibition, the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1989; Bill Traylor as the self-taught, antebellum Southerner; and rounding out the group was the enigmatic “magician”, David Hammons.

    One of Hammons’ contributions to the exhibition was African-American Flag flying in the courtyard of the Museumplein for the duration of the show. A photograph capturing Hammons raising African-American Flag over the Museumplein suggests a sense of auspiciousness. Indeed, its position at the nexus of that cultural heart of Amsterdam was a significant one. Flanked by the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the American consulate bedecked with flags, the present work stood at the intersection of art and politics.

    This strategic placement of African-American Flag harkens back to Hammons’ earlier street art interventions. Hammons’ improvisational use of media, often presented in public locations, subverts the viewer’s expectations of what constitutes fine art. Using the streets as his platform, Hammons frequently confronts issues such as homelessness, racism, or unemployment, as in his now infamous performance piece Bliz-aard Ball Sale after the 1983 blizzard, when he sold snowballs in Cooper Square, New York. As he explained, “I do my street art mainly to keep rooted in that ‘who I am.’ Because the only thing that’s really going on is in the street; that’s where something is really happening. It isn’t happening in these galleries. Doing things in the street is more powerful than art I think. Because art has gotten so… I don’t know what the fuck art is about now. Like Malcolm X said, it’s like Novocain. It used to wake you up but now it puts you to sleep. I think art now is putting people to sleep. There’s so much of it around in this town that it doesn’t mean anything. That’s why the artist has to be very careful what he shows and when he shows now. Because the people aren’t really looking at art, they’re looking at each other’s clothes and each other’s haircuts.” (David Hammons, “Interview with David Hammons”, Brown University, 1986, online)

    Ten years following its unveiling at Black USA, the artwork, African-American Flag, was acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York and was presented for the first time in the museum next to Jasper Johns’ Flag in their exhibition, OPEN ENDS: Pop and After, 2000–2001. Beside the solidity of Johns’ work, which physically embalms the image of the flag in fragments of newspaper and wax, the ripple of Hammons’ fabric flag takes on a further revolutionary feeling. Just as the flag waves in Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, here a new flag signals a triumphant new dawn, whilst ironically calling to question the historic trajectory of the flags that inform it.

    An insightful commentary on identity, Hammons reconfigures the American flag with clarity and political adroitness, replacing the red, white, and blue of Old Glory with the black, red, and green of Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African Flag first adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in 1920. The simplicity of this gesture suggests that just as the flag has the ability to transform, so too does the nation and people it represents. In contrast to the red, white, and blue originally intended to suggest purity, valor, and justice, the three Pan-African colors hold specific symbolism, representing the blood, skin tone, and the natural resource richness of the African land.

    An elegant visual pun, the choice to develop a flag into the subject and object of his artwork is also significant. A subversive portrait of modern American life, by adopting the flag as a symbol of a collective nation, Hammons complicates a once familiar representation and invites new interpretations. Continuing a narrative on the role of the nation, the resulting work compels its viewers to acknowledge a conflicted past while speaking to a broader discussion of racial and cultural identity.

    Hammons frequently imbues potent symbols with new meaning. As Roberta Smith noted, his works cross “racial, cultural and geographic boundaries, mixing old and new, high and low, East and West”, and in doing so, produce a novel visual language (Roberta Smith, “ART REVIEW: The New, Irreverent Approach to Mounting Exhibitions", New York Times, January 6, 1995, p. C25). From his basketball hoop sculptures Higher Goals, 1986, which commented on the limited opportunities available to young African Americans, to the arresting painting How ya like me Now, 1988, which depicts a young Reverend Jesse Jackson with white skin and blonde hair, Hammons has not shied away from topics which directly impacted his own life and which continue to be the everyday reality for a large portion of the American population. African-American Flag follows in this tradition. Instead of working directly with the Pan-African Flag, Hammons’ use of its colors within the context of the traditional American flag is a reminder of the many contributions made by African Americans throughout the history of the country. Hammons combines the two objects to create a new flag of the United States. Using the emblem as a commentary on identity, Hammons’ African-American Flag reflects the complications of the time we live in, and prompts a unique way of visualizing the different truths we each experience.

  • Artist Biography

    David Hammons

    American • 1943

    Few artists are afforded the liberty to dictate exhibition schedules and public appearances, but David Hammons eschews the spotlight and rebels against the conventions of the art world. Whether intentionally or not, Hammons creates works so laden with spell-binding metaphor that they have become symbols for movements both in the art world as well as in the public domain. (His now-iconic In the Hood sculpture has been used by Black Lives Matter activist group.)

    Hammons doesn't work in mediums or any formal or academic theory—he famously has said, "I can't stand art actually." Still, with controversial works including his PETA-paint-splashed Fur Coat sculpture, Hammons remains one of contemporary art's most watched artists. Hammons also doesn't frequently exhibit, and his last major gallery show, 2016's "Five Decades," only featured 34 works. With a controlled market, Hammons saw Untitled, a basketball hoop with dangling candelabra, achieve $8 million at Phillips in 2013. 

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Property of the Collection Over Holland


African-American Flag

dyed cotton
56 1/2 x 87 1/4 in. (143.5 x 221.6 cm.)
Executed in 1990, this work is from an edition of 5. Another example from the edition is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $2,050,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017