David Hammons - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Executed in 1990, It’s Not Necessary epitomizes David Hammons’ longstanding preoccupation with the intersection of found objects and high art. Rejecting the traditional gallery model and institutional elitism, Hammons has actively refuted art world norms in favor of defining his own path. Comprised of loose sheet music, worn tennis balls, hanging crystals, and a wire basket, the present work is neither painting nor sculpture: it makes reference to Hammons’ deep appreciation for the Arte Povera movement, and his fascination with the Duchampian readymade, all whilst eschewing easy categorization of its own. A striking example from the artist’s celebrated oeuvre, the present work is replete with duality, deftly interweaving high and low, the conceptual with the tangible.


    Bruce W. Talamon, David Hammons, La Salle Studio, 1977. Nasher Museum of Art, Durham
    Bruce W. Talamon, David Hammons, La Salle Studio, 1977. Nasher Museum of Art, Durham

    Coming to the market for the first time since its execution thirty years ago, It’s Not Necessary is notable for its storied provenance, having traveled from Hammons’ studio in Harlem in the early 1990s to Belgium, where it has resided for the past three decades. In 1991, Hammons had formed a close friendship with the reputable Belgian director of the SMAK in Ghent, Jan Hoet—then curator of Documenta IX. Both Hammons and Hoet shared an anti-materialist outlook and a mutual belief in the powerful communicative capabilities of art. Hoet sought to reconfigure the established conventions of the 1992 Documenta; the theme of ‘displacement’ was used as a leitmotif throughout the exhibition, as Hoet put forward his belief in the purpose of contemporary art to provide an authentic, subjective experience. Several years later, Hoet acquired It’s Not Necessary directly from the artist for his personal collection. The work was later acquired by a close family friend, also in Belgium, where it has resided ever since.


    Hammons’ Higher Goals installed in Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn, 1986. Image: Pinkney Herbert and Jennifer Secor, Courtesy of the Public Art Fund
    David Hammons’ Higher Goals installed in Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn, 1986. Image: Pinkney Herbert and Jennifer Secor, Courtesy of the Public Art Fund

    The years leading up to Hammons’ creation of the present work are some of his most noteworthy. In 1986, Hammons famously erected Higher Goals in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza, a temporary public art installation soaring 30 feet high consisting of 10,000 bottle caps nailed to five telephone poles, each topped with a basketball backboard. One of his most renowned works to date, Higher Goals was Hammons’ response to his own upbringing in America, where young African American boys are taught that basketball and dreams of the National Basketball Association represent the only path to success. Executed just four years later, It’s Not Necessary illustrates the artist’s continued exploration on the charged themes of race, poverty, dreams and triumph through the lens of basketball. In the present work, the wire basket is simultaneously reminiscent of a basketball hoop and a waste bin, its duality perhaps a slighted jab at the rags-to-riches tales peddled to young Black men in America.



    Acutely aware of the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance and his own love of Jazz music, Hammons incorporates musical elements in many of his pieces as an homage to Black culture in America. In It’s Not Necessary, loose sheet music printed with elementary musical exercises are stuffed in a wire basket. Perhaps alluding to the Harlem Renaissance, a booming era for the production of African American culture, music and art, the music here lies in waste, mourning the loss of these golden years. Instead, It’s Not Necessary is adorned with tennis balls draped with crystals, probing viewers to contemplate if kitsch and glamour have overtaken talent and culture in the contemporary era. Rife with meaning, It’s Not Necessary is perhaps best understood through Hammons’ clever titling of the piece. Like many of Hammons’ works, title and physical object here operate jointly as verbal and pictorial pun to engender further meaning.


    Keeping up with Hammons



    Collector’s Digest


    Concurrent Institutional Show:


    Nahmad Contemporary, New York, David Hammons: Basketball & Kool-Aid, May 1 – June 25, 2021


    • This year, the Whitney Museum of American Art in collaboration with the Hudson River Park unveiled a permanent public art project by David Hammons titled Day’s End, which received high critical acclaim and cemented Hammons among the titans of contemporary art. 


    • In 2013, Phillips set Hammons’ current world record when Untitled achieved over $8,000,000.


    Untitled, 2000 Achieved $8,005,000.
    Untitled, 2000
    Achieved $8,005,000.
    • Provenance

      Jan Hoet, Gent (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Brussels, Wiels, Unexchangable, April 19 – August 12, 2018

    • 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

Property from a Private Collection, Belgium


It’s Not Necessary

signed and dated "Hammons 90" on the reverse
wire basket, sheet music, tennis balls, crystals, nails and wire on fabric
59 1/4 x 38 x 7 1/2 in. (150.5 x 96.5 x 19.1 cm)
Executed in 1990.

Full Cataloguing

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $5,475,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021