In 1986, when David Hammons was already a name in the New York art scene, he told an interviewer, “I can’t stand art, actually. I’ve never, ever liked art.” He’s never explained what he meant by that, but for someone who doesn’t like art, he sure produces it. And in quantity.
Visiting the exhibition “David Hammons: Five Decades” in the Mnuchin Gallery in Manhattan is a real experience. 34 objets d’art, pulled from across Hammons’ fifty-year (and counting) career, show the sheer breadth of his eccentric creativity, and the tight focus of his politics.
Bottlecap sculptures in sub-Saharan patterns, the silent commentary of a torn-up green hoodie on a white wall, a crystal chandelier made out of a basketball hoop, a riotous bushlike eruption made of black human hair and sand – these are just a few of the selections made by the Mnuchin Gallery. After the selections were made, Hammons himself interfered, pulling some pieces, inserting others, adding a soundtrack to the show. He made a point of including art that had previously shown in the same gallery, like a collection of paint-slashed expensive fur coats and a massive canvas with the kind of bland abstract art one sees in the lobbies of Fortune 500s, covered by a painted industrial tarp in vivid orange.
It’s these last two, particularly, that just might hold the key to his quote from 30 years ago – perhaps what David Hammons, a man who clearly cannot stop creating art, can’t stand about art is the trends in it. What is expensive, what represents privilege, what sells, and especially, what is excluded.