David Hammons: Art is Personal is Political
During a visit to a large retrospective of Hammons’ work, we discover an oeuvre that reflects not just one artist’s 45-year singular experience but uncovers a collective American consciousness grappling with racial injustice.
They call my art what it is. A lot of times I don't know what it is because I'm so close to it. I'm just in the process of trying to complete it. I think someone said all work is political the moment that last brushstroke is put on it. Then it's political, but before that it's alive and it's being made.” An excerpt from an interview with David Hammons on the politicization of his artwork in “EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art” by Kellie Jones & Imamu Amiri Baraka, 2011.
After a recent visit to a large retrospective of David Hammons’ work, we find out the exhibition marks his first here in over 45 years. It’s wild to learn this, because the work speaks of this place and time as if it were made for it. Perhaps that’s what makes Hammons work as profound as it is; the deeply rooted messages within each piece sustain themselves across decades and across cities. They reflect a collective American consciousness as much as they are the products of an artist’s 45-year singular experience.
It’s tricky to sit down and summarize Hammons work because of this. Moreover, he creates across just about every medium, and teases what we might lay inside the bounds of ‘art’. Tarps cover canvasses, frames are formed of malleable cloth, he collects and documents everyday objects. He’s from Illinois, was educated in Los Angeles and now lives and works in New York. So, he’s geographically and experientially covered the ground of this country and from this his art exudes. Each piece is a reaction to his lived experience. As he says, “it's alive and it's being made,”... and then it’s meaning is born. He forges political statements on the traumas of the racial injustice he encountered. His work questions bigotry and classism and privilege. And yet, just as easily, he makes us laugh. His works exposes the falseness of the artworld and yet, he’s one of the most celebrated figures in modern American art. We’re excited to put a spotlight on him this week because we’re deeply inspired by these dichotomies, and the provocation of thought he’s unleashed on this city. We admire his experimentation, his unabashed artistic speech and ultimately his ability to create something beautiful in the face of it all.