- David Hammons
- rubber inner tube, leather handbag, wooden brush, wire and coiled strip metal
- 46 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. 118.1 x 44.4 x 16.5 cm.
- Executed in 1989-1990.
Acquired by the present owner from the above in December 1990
Michael Kimmelman, "Giving Voice to the Ephemera of the Urban World," The New York Times, May 19, 1989
Throughout a five-decade career of eluding categorization and defying art world protocols, David Hammons consistently produces context-sensitive works that pose the question of identity – of his own, of the African American experience and of art. Conceived not frivolously but with a good deal of spontaneity and indelible wit, the arresting wall mounted sculpture Untitled from 1989-1990 is an exemplary instance of Hammons’ continuous reworking of the association between materials, objects and their connotations, all centered around two themes: the commercialism and divisive nature of high art and societal struggle.
The present work, a portrait of a wide-eyed face, recalls the artist’s early Body Prints in which, with a nod to Yves Klein, Hammons pressed his own form onto the image. The corporeal image of Hammons, however, takes on a rather different significance than Klein’s Anthropométries, aside from the fact that Klein employed the bodies and visage of others: Hammons constantly wrestles with the inescapable redundancy of a black artist expressing “blackness.” This redundancy and the subsequent layering of meaning are conversely best expressed in the present work by Hammons’ extreme economy of means. By assembling and exalting a group of found objects, the artist perhaps is constructing a portrait of himself, one that is layered with self-consciousness, irony and the dignity of his itinerant artist-shamanism, or in other words, a kind of dignified “homelessness.” Throughout his oeuvre, Hammons’ self-fulfilling mystique – conjuring spirits with chicken parts, strands of human hair, bottles of cheap wine, decorated basketball hoops – is always accompanied by his reading of black cultural identity and its past heritage as he in turn deconstructs stereotypes and re-contextualizes materials.
Composed of a rubber inner tube, a dark-haired wooden brush, a pair of strip metal coils and a torn leather bag, Untitled is on the one hand deeply rooted in the art historical canons of assemblage, such as Pablo Picasso’s Bull's Head, (Seat and Handles of a Bicycle), 1942, as well as the Duchampian ‘ready-made’ that has influenced art since its inception. On the other hand, it is Hammons’ unique and joking take on the commercialism rampant in the contemporary world. The individual components of Hammons’ Untitled conjure up the romantic proletariat image of a mechanic, a shoe-shine man or a leather maker, only to be undercut by the pattern on the leather bag that is recognizably Louis Vuitton or the mark on the rubber tube that gives away its Italian origin. An alarmingly simple gesture of assemblage investigates the conversation and oppositional forces involved in today’s world – class, race, globalization, poverty, wealth – and where the black culture fits amid these forces. With eyes wide open in curiosity, disbelief or anger, the ambiguous face in Untitled demonstrates a consummate understanding of Hammons’ strategies of dissent and refusal. On the surface, the form of the present work resembles a sort of Jeff Koons’ Lobster or Robert Rauschenberg’s Combine, but in spirit, it’s a soulful meditation on contemporary culture disguised in romantic portraiture and modernist rebellion that occupies an artistic category on its own. “[Hammons’] translation of humble materials into poetic forms yields his art’s essential character as content-driven abstraction, spiritual food for the soul.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Zwirner & Wirth, David Hammons: Selected Works, 2006, n.p.)