David Hammons - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Painted in 1969, David Hammons’s Untitled is an important example of the artist’s focus on challenging modernist traditions—an aim he has engaged with across the disciplines of painting, sculpture, performance, public art, and institutional critique. Throughout each of these mediums, Hammons explores abstracted depictions of Black cultural and daily life. Although the artist would hone this aspect of his work more explicitly later, his early engagements with abstract painting reveal the impulses that would inevitably shape his artistic practice. In Untitled, an explosive swirl of glossy red and black enamel paint converges in the center of a yellow and orange background. Surrounding the center are pools of blue, white and green that frame the blend of color contained within the middle of the composition. Displaying a sharp awareness of this medium, Hammons emphasizes the liquid and almost mercurial nature of the enamel where some colors begin to blend and morph into other colors along their edges.

    In a profile of Hammons published in Artforum, art critic Manthia Diawara wrote, “Black artistic confidence means a willingness to transform blackness into a higher level of abstraction.”1 For Hammons and other Black artists, the onset of the 1960s Black Arts movement brought the investigation of Blackness to disciplines including literature and the visual arts, where in the latter, this exploration would attempt to define the political effects of figurative versus abstract art. While Hammons has continually refused to adhere to a single mode of representation, his early abstract paintings like the present work make a striking case-study for how to interpret Blackness in the absence of Black figuration. Recalling both the swirling pools of pigment found in Color Field paintings as well as the active brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists—both movements dominated by white artists—the flexibility of the enamel paint in Untitled and its ability to occupy several forms at once echoes the opening and blurring of Blackness that occurred during the post-modernist period where Black artists were motivated to define their own identities and see just how far they can extend those boundaries of themselves. Such an exploration is central to Hammons’s early interactions with abstract painting. It becomes fitting then that these works served as the foundation for the artist to construct his entire artistic philosophy. 

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, San Francisco (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Sotheby's, New York, May 16, 2007, lot 416
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • 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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signed "HAMMONS" lower right
enamel on Masonite
36 1/8 x 48 1/8 in. (91.8 x 122.2 cm)
Executed in 1969.

Full Cataloguing

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $75,600

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York

1 212 940 1250

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York 8 December 2020