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  • 'For me, David Hammons is an artist whose work is always intriguing […] as he tackles new issues and weaves more threads around mundane and everyday objects, changing them into objects of strange and rare beauty.'
    —Alanna Heiss

    Known for his simple juxtapositions of found materials such as hair, chicken bones, and elephant dung to create wittily incisive objects of arresting and immediate meaning, David Hammons makes works that are as profound as they are political. Combining humour, political urgency, and a poetic sense of metaphor, Hammons has centralised questions of race, individual agency, and consumerism – all themes explored in the present work. As its title suggest, Elephant Dung features one of Hammons’ most iconic reclaimed materials, a large ball of dung painted a lively creamy pink and attached to a pair of small wheels. Refashioned into a child’s pulley toy with the addition of the long, opalescent cord, the strangely corporeal object takes on enormous proportions when brought into proximity with the miniature elephant. As if engaged with his own Sisyphean task, the element is bound to carrying the weight of his own, beautifully embellished waste with him wherever he goes, as must we all.

     

    Given Hammons’ reluctance to show his work in formalised contexts such as museums and galleries, the inclusion of Elephant Dung in the sensational 1991 Rousing the Rubble exhibition held at P.S. 1 Museum in New York highlights its exceptional significance, and its ability to speak to core conceptual and thematic issues that have preoccupied the artist throughout his career. 

     

    Installation view of Elephant Dung with Elephant in the P.S. 1 exhibition David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble, 1969-1990

     

    Rousing the Rubble

     

    Hammons launched his career in the 1970s with his Body Prints – works that involved a distinctly performative element as the artist covered himself in margarine, pressing his greased body onto sheets of paper over which he then dusted powdered pigment. Presenting a radical means of inserting the Black body and the artist himself into the canon, these also led to more directly performative street actions such as his urinating on the divisive public sculpture T.W.U by Richard Serra, and the erection of towering basketball hoops in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza. Standing over 30 feet high and decorated with discarded bottle caps Higher Goals was executed in the same year as the present work and speaks to Hammons’ consistent examination of highly charged themes of race, poverty, and aspiration. 

     

    With a flair for the theatrical and a deep sensitivity to the emotive power of materials, Hammons conveys complex, sometimes contradictory ideas with breath-taking immediacy and economy. Like Marcel Duchamp, he draws on everyday objects for his art materials, covering conceptually overlapping ground given Duchamp’s famous use of urinals and dust. Like Duchamp too, Hammons work hums with an irreverent humour, as is clearly evidenced here, and yet at the same time the artist’s work is cut through with a more incisive socio-economic critique than his French predecessor. Whereas Duchamp famously selected his objects with a carefree visual indifference, Hammons’ materials are loaded objects, carefully juxtaposed to evoke new meanings as he addresses ‘the politics of visibility, of who and what can be seen and explained’.i

    'There’s nothing negative about our images, it all depends on who’s seeing it, and we’ve been depending on some else’s sight … we need to look again and decide.'

    Making powerful use of urban detritus, Hammons collapses distinctions between high and low, making art that ‘resonat[es] with the pain, anger, and absurdity of being a Black man in the United States’.ii As well as drawing on a legacy of avant-garde practices related to assemblage and performance, Hammons draws on a history of American folk construction and Outsider art, finding in these traditions ‘a way of using and doing things, of creating something beautiful from the nothing that is given, from the leftovers.’iii

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    •    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 addition to the recent exhibition David Hammons: Basketball & Kool-Aid at Nahmad Contemporary, New York earlier this year, in 2019 Hauser & Wirth also staged a significant retrospective of the artist’s work at their Los Angeles location. 

     

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


    i Looking at Seeing: David Hammons and the Politics of Visibility', ARTnews, 17 February 2015

    ii Calvin Tomkins, ‘David Hammons Follows his Own Rules’, 9 December 2019, The New Yorker, online

    iii Kellie Jones, ‘The Structure of Myth and the Potency of Magic’, Rousing the Rubble,  P. 29

    • Provenance

      Gifted by the artist to the present owner in 1992

    • Exhibited

      New York, P.S. 1 Museum; Philadelphia, The Institute of Contemporary Art; San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, Rousing the Rubble, 16 December 1990 - 10 November 1991, p. 78 (illustrated, p. 79)

    • Literature

      Ponton Temse, exh. cat., Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent, 1990, p. 51 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      David Hammons

      American • 1943

      David Hammons eschews the spotlight and rebels against the conventions of the art world. Hammons’s diverse body of work, spanning conceptual, performance, and installation art, is 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. 

      Hammons doesn't work in any consistent medium or using any formal or academic theory—he famously has said, "I can't stand art actually." Still, with his Duchamp-ian readymades re-envisioned for a contemporary political context, Hammons remains one of contemporary art's most watched artists. Untitleda basketball hoop with dangling candelabra, achieved $8 million at Phillips in 2013, the world auction record for the artist. 

      View More Works

Property from an Important Belgian Collection

37

Elephant Dung

poster paint on elephant dung, found objects and rope
14 x 20 x 16 cm (5 1/2 x 7 7/8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1986.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £226,800

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021