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Art Index: David Hammons

Born in 1943, in Springfield, Illinois, David Hammons has been one of the most influential American contemporary artists in the past decades. Hammons started his impressive career in Los Angeles in 1962. Known from his inaccessibility over the years, his focus has been on making his art the center of his career and recognition. Hammons is famous for the symbolism and the inclusion of daily life objects and themes in his art pieces. Over the years, Hammons has presented his interpretation of the African-American culture - touching social themes, presenting stereotypes, and confronting the different realities among races and cultural behaviors.

David Hammons in a picture by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. © 2017 Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Hammons began his career in the 1960s and 1970s in Los Angeles, where he gained recognition due to his distinctive artistic technique and media - some of Hammons’ most recognizable artwork are the Body Prints, in which he used his own body to create art pieces by covering it in grease and pressing it to paper, later sprinkling it with pigmented powder creating an impressive kind of transfer print in human size. It was a novel and unique way to create artwork, the inclusion of other media and symbolic images like the American flag or other contemporary political imageries and civil rights symbolism was what made his art exceptional and what separated and made Hammons one of the most important artists in American culture.

While attending CalArts (known before as Chouinard Art Institute) and later at the Otis Art Institute, Hammons found his inspiration and met artists that inspired and influenced his work - among them, John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Charles White; all part of a group of African-American artists and musicians that were considered activists and realists that used politically charged messages and images as part of their work.

Later, Hammonds moved to New York in 1974 and 1981. During that time his focus moved from painting to sculptures. The themes of his work and the inspiration came from the use of day-to-day objects known in the urban African-American life. Objects like hair from barbershops, empty liquor bottles and chicken bones among other things. For many, Hammons’ work had a hidden message that African-Americans could understand and identify with but was not as visible for other races because it was not part of their daily life and culture.

David Hammons' Turnover from 2001, source

With installations like Higher Goals (1983, 1986) where Hammons used metal bottle caps to create massive basketball hoops giving an illusion of a mosaic, or drawing where he used dirty basketballs, bouncing them in clean white paper, were his way to play with the symbolism of basketball as a higher aspiration medium for young black men, a way to present those stereotypes of moving from difficulties to stardom in a world of highly paid athletes.

In Hammons’ work the message is in the simplicity and the media he uses, drawings made with Kool-Aid powder, a very popular beverage, are part of his work, one of those drawings was exhibited at the MoMA in 2012, in an exclusive show where, visitors could access only by appointment, keeping his nature of privacy and his preference to make his art an artistic experience for those who want to find it and see it. A trade that can be found in most of his work. In his exhibit Concerto in Black and Blue (2002) at the Ace Gallery in New York, the room was dark, and the visitors used a blue flashlight to see the pieces, maintaining his emphasis not only in his message but in who can see it.

Critical confrontation of stereotypes, using humor or sarcasm as a mechanism to show racial themes and social issues that are at the center of his art is what for many is not only an opening to a culture a view of races but also an opening to a valuable conversation about the role of artists in their communities or in the general conversation of difficult and divisive topics in society.

Hammons was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant Fellowship in 1991, and over the years his work has gained recognition and has been part of renown institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Fogg Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Foundation Cartier pour l’Art Conteporain in Paris, Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, Francois Pinault Foundation in Venice, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and Tate Britain in London among other institutions around the world.

David Hammons' Number of Lots Sold from 2001, source

With two solo exhibitions in 2006 at Zwirner & Wirth in New York NY and in 2003 in Zürich ZH, Switzerland at Galerie Hauser & Wirth, it is well-known that Hammons is not inclined to exhibit his work in solo shows, maintaining his aura as a recluse artist, but his work has reached many and has made him one of the most important and prominent American artists. Hammons currently resides in New York.

Most of Hammons’ work has been sold in the United States according to, the artist’s best turnover was during 2013 ($9,795,526) to 2017 ($7,374,709), with a record in 2013 of charging $7,000,000. And most of it has been sold in the range of $1,000,000 - $5,000,000. What he has sold the most are his sculptures ($28,102,732) follow by his painting ($13,282,921).

Money Tree, © 2020 David Hammons

On November 25th, 2020, Germann Auktionshaus in Switzerland auctionned David Hammons’ Money Tree, a photography from 1992, measuring 19 5/8×16 inches with an auction base estimate of $1,635 - $2,180, but the hammer price has not be communicated.


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