- David Hammons
- Dirty Money
- tarp and acrylic on canvas
The present work comprises a large canvas cloaked in a tarp that obscures the painted surface below. Areas of pigment are visible only through tears and holes in the overlaid covering. The resulting layers confer a sense of compositional hierarchy which, in turn, leaves the viewer to question the aesthetic and visual conundrums that Hammons presents in an attempt to decode meaning. Appropriating urban waste and detritus, much like his predecessor Robert Rauschenberg, Hammons elevates the simple tarp to the status of high art, challenging the preciousness of the medium of painting and forming a dichotomy between waste and luxury goods.
Hammons has lived and worked in New York City since 1974, and his experiences there have informed the core theme of his oeuvre. Tackling issues of civil rights, racial and social inequality, and Black urban culture, Hammons’ work is permeated by a highly charged and omnipresent cultural critique. Through the use of provocative and unconventional materials he creates art with a strong visual impact that simultaneously shocks and perplexes. In one of his most infamous performance pieces, called Bliz-aard Ball Sale, Hammons took on the role of a street vendor during a snowstorm in 1983. The work consisted of the artist selling snowballs in a variety of sizes on the streets of New York, and was a potent capitalist critique that called into question the stability of the commodified art object.
Always a staunch critic of capitalist systems and the elitism of the art world, Hammons harshly calls into question the commodification of art and works to undermine these established values. Forgoing the standard systems of fine art display and reception he rarely gives interviews and declines representation by commercial galleries. Instead he emerges in unannounced and unexpected venues. Dirty Money is exemplary of Hammons’ characteristically unorthodox approach to artistic methods and materials, which persistently reach beyond the conventional limits of paint on canvas through the playful use of discarded debris. Hammons’ appropriation of commonplace materials imbues his works with an inherent accessibility and familiarity, further reinforcing his concentrated dismantling of the entrenched traditions of high art.