David Hammons - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Catalogue Essay

    An artist such as David Hammons evokes personal spirit and conviction while maintaining a strong aura of enigma through his steadfast elusiveness. His artwork emerges from the gap between art and life, where beauty and social commentary intersect. It is this very duplicity, however, that earns him the respect and attention merited.

    Hammons rose to art world fame in the mid 1970s with his sculptural ‘ready-mades’ that pushed the African-American identity into the spotlight. At the time, his work stood in stark contrast to the exclusively white-fed art that was the mainstay in commercial galleries. The tension his work highlighted was universally appealing and led the artist to achieve critical success and respect.

    Charged with black political activism inspired through his own experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, Hammons challenges our stereotypes and the clichés of an African American experience by voicing strong statements of discontent with the political, social and economic systems of America.

    In a rare interview conducted in 1993, Hammons explores the myths behind interpreting his artwork. When asked to define the nature of his work he responds, “It’s all bullshit or it’s brilliance. Life is all bullshit. Everybody says ‘I own this, I got this property, I own all that over there, I got to get on the yacht.’ Cling. The next thing you know they die on their way to the yacht. It’s all so transient. It’s a big game, and it’s serious too. But you just play with all the silly sides of it. It’s like, ‘Is this for real or is this cat completely out to left field?’ And you’re never supposed to know what is going on. Our position is to keep the shit completely confused. It’s in a lot of people’s work- Duchamp, Beuys.” (David Hammons in an interview by D. M. Rothschild, “Reflections of a Long Distance Runner”, taken from Triplc Candie, ed., David Hammons; the unauthorized retrospective, New York, 2006, n.p.).

    Through carefully choosing his materials and settings, Hammons is scanning this notion of being black with a "mix of wit, high flying absurdity and lyrical funk." (R. Rugoff, David Hammons: Public Nuisance, Rubble Rouser, Hometown Artist, p.12). While deeply rooted in his own heritage and the artistic traditions of Dadaism, Surrealism and Minimalism the crucial source and inspiration in Hammons' work is ultimately New York's street life, which he combines with installations and performance art. “Conceptual artist, environmental sculptor and social commentator, Mr. Hammons fashions from the artifacts of his urban surroundings a strange and rather wonderful kind of poetry.” (M. Kimmelman, “Giving Voice to the Ephemeral”, The New York Times, April 16, 1990).

    In the present lot, Untitled, 2004, Hammons returns to concepts of the 'found object' so often employed in previous work from his career, whilst maintaining the strong theme of social commentary and confrontation. His use of found objects differs largely from that of Pop Art. Rather then duplicating the artificiality produced from a consumerist society, Hammons' items are confused, muddled and seemingly haphazard in their arrangement, all the while also sharing a harmony in their chaos, a meaning which is shared more with Surrealism and Duchamp’s legacy of the ‘ready-made’.

    Through the masks, Hammons is able to conjure the historical and cultural patina that lie within the objects themselves. As Franklin Sirmans explains, “It is this ability that firmly situates Hammons between the consummate contemporary conceptual artist in line with his hero Duchamp and the ‘outsider’ in line with Thorton Dial and a host of other artists in an Afro-Atlantic lineage. While Duchamp changed ways of seeing art by turning everyday objects into ‘ready-mades’, recontextualizing material and the meaning of an object, Hammons’ use of the materials of everyday existence goes further in its connection to humanity. His translation of humble materials into poetic forms yields his art’s essential character as content-driven abstraction, spiritual food for the soul.” (K. Bell, G. Lulay, and A. Whitney, eds., David Hammons: Selected Works, New York, 2006, n.p.).

    Untitled, 2004 protrudes from the wall, proud and strong but simultaneously fragile. From our perspective, the work appears to remain together through the rope and intricate wires harnessed by Hammons. The inconceivable stature held together through minimal means launches our focal point into the structure: a wide assemblage of African tribal masks, the varying representations seem to mirror the diversity in humanity itself.

    At the tip of the piece we are confronted by something which is at first alarming, disarming in its obscurity. The significance of the small handheld mirror is most obvious and arresting when seen head on. This organic, amorphous piece has a face—cunningly your face-- a human face. It is as though this musty cobbled together erection of mementos, artifacts and ideas is confronting us with ourselves. Hammons is forcing us to realize that all who look in the mirror see themselves, supported by the same force, the same human history. It is we who are tentatively supported and connected by the fragility of his work, and its mirrored effect on our own identity and shared human existence.

  • 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. 

    View More Works



Wall-mounted sculpture comprised of 12 African masks, wood, metal, wire, rope, straw and mirror.
39 x 11 x 55 in. (99.1 x 27.9 x 139.7 cm).
Signed and dated “Hammons 04” on the reverse.

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $1,496,000

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York