David Hammons - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “Outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol."
    —David Hammons

    One of the most consequential artists working today, David Hammons has spent the past five decades probing the art establishment with his contemplative, socially committed practice centered on class and the Black urban experience. Untitled, 2008, a monumental example from the artist’s acclaimed series of tarp paintings, is no exception. The seminal series, first exhibited at L&M Arts in 2011, quickly found its way into collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Pinault Collection, Paris.


    Disrupting the Canon


    The ultimate insider-outsider, Hammons remains a staunch critic of institutional elitism but has earned some of the highest honors one can receive as an artist: among many career accolades, Hammons received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship in 1991 and has work represented in the preeminent public collections around the world. His paradoxical success and personal elusiveness have become art historical legend. Having long eschewed the traditional model of gallery representation, in 2011 Hammons partnered with L&M Arts in New York to present an exhibition of his tarp paintings in the gallery’s historic Upper East Side townhouse. The tarp paintings presented a subtle but unambiguous message about the experiences of race and poverty in American society. Of the series, Adam Lindemann reflected: “The work is about class, and the strange intersection of the aesthetics of poverty with Arte Povera and Abstract Expressionism. The whole concept of art and money and class is a phenomenally complex one, too often over-sensationalized and oversimplified. Mr. Hammons gives it to us in its full complexity,” contrasting the polished presentation of Hammons’ works inside a gallery space with the harsh reality of people living on the adjacent streets.


    “Nearly every one of these works belongs in a museum, in a room of its own. Any other art juxtaposed with it would curl up and die”
    —The New Yorker

    By presenting works that allude to homelessness in a pristine, white cube environment, Hammons both engages with and ridicules the elitism of these institutions, commenting on the ways in which reputations are manufactured and value is assigned. Reviewing the L&M Arts exhibition for The New York Times Holland Cotter aptly summed: “We think Modernism, but we also think street people, construction sites, trash.” The New Yorker boldly asserted this body of work has “achieved a perfect synthesis of [Hammons’] political animus and his aesthetic avidity. Call it Minimalist Expressionism. Nearly every one of these works belongs in a museum, in a room of its own. Any other art juxtaposed with it would curl up and die.”


    Material Possibilities


    Hammons is decidedly a sculptor rather than a painter. Working in the legacy of Duchamp—he once re-bound Marcel Duchamp’s Catalogue Raisonné with the cover of the Holy Bible—Hammons devoted his practice to sculptural assemblage and installation upon moving to New York in the mid-1970s. Untitled, however, presents viewers with a “painting.” It is clear the work comprises a canvas, though it is obscured by the loosely draped plastic tarp. The canvas, a roughly applied, monochromatic painting, is only directly visible through intermittent, tattered holes. In a play on visibility and invisibility, accessibility and inaccessibility, Hammons’ loose brushstrokes have been interpreted by critics as an allusion to Abstract Expressionism and the market-topping prices these works command.


    While he deftly interweaves high and low in a manner that reflects his deep appreciation for the Arte Povera movement in addition to his fascination with the Duchampian readymade, his practice is resolutely grounded in the realities of his lived experience in the United States, from coming of age during the civil rights movement to the deterioration of inner-city life in New York in the 1970s and 80s. Hammons’ later works, from around the 1990s to present, have evidenced a subtle shift in thematic focus from race to class, which is echoed in Untitled via Hammons’ consideration of the material conditions of homelessness. Utilizing the ubiquitous but anonymous symbol of the tarp, Hammons re-works a discarded material into an elegant work of art in Untitled. In the crumpled sheet of plastic takes on a beautiful, rippled effect as it drapes across canvas. The work exemplifies Hammons’ unique ability to wholly transform objects through the simplest of actions, reinventing their visual affect while retaining the signifiers of their origins. The present example is a master class in using a simple symbol—a tarp—to concisely connote complex social experiences.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, 2015 (on extended loan)

    • Literature

      David Hammons, exh. cat., L&M Arts, New York, 2012, n.p (illustrated)
      Holland Cotter, “The Upper East Side Goes Grungy in David Hammons’s Gallery Show,” The New York Times, March 1, 2011, online (illustrated)

    • 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



signed and dated "5/17/08 Hammons" on the reverse
mixed media
canvas 80 x 70 in. (203.2 x 177.8 cm.)
installation dimensions 102 x 84 x 10 in. (259.1 x 213.4 x 25.4 cm.)

Executed on May 17, 2008.

Full Cataloguing

$1,300,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,633,000

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023