"The Art of David Hammons" review by Steve Cannon
Director, A Gathering of the Tribes
David Hammons is a trickster. He's fashioned and manufactured that image since arriving in the Big Apple. His emergence happened when abstract art was moving into the background and pop art was in its ascendancy. Installation, video, and conceptual art had yet to make itself manifest. Mr. Hammons' strategy was to claim a niche for himself and his art. Like the musician Miles Davis and the poet Amira Baraka before him, he figured the easiest way to make himself known through his art was and still is, to maintain a low profile and be inconspicuous and invisible as possible. He hardly ever appears at his own openings.
Mr Hammons is a walker -- a walker in the city. His studios are located in Harlem but he himself resides in Brooklyn -- with a view of the isle of Manhattan where he can imagine its tunnels. Oh sure, he can be spotted from time to time, from the late afternoon to the wee small hours of the morning perambulating casually through the city -- uptown to downtown, peeping into store windows, browsing in and around art galleries, bookstores, and spending a lot of time probing flee markets. With a paper bag full of peanuts, tossing shells on the ground, Mr Hammons is in constant search of "stuff" that is different. He might be what you would call, one who celebrates "odd lots." How well I remember the day he walked into Tribes with a two foot statue of Louie Armstrong with a two foot smirk on his own face and the statue as well, smiling from ear to ear. Why, he had discovered it in the corner of a flee market hidden under several layers of newsprint.
He also believes in making himself scarce. Of his many adventures into the art world, the two that captured my imagination the most are as follows; He invited a group of art curators, many from Africa, to visit his museum-gallery in Spanish Harlem. He left the curators in a state of shock, lost for words -- the space was drenched in darkness without a sliver of light to be found anywhere. He labeled their visit a performance piece. Of course the second time, he was offered a block long gallery warehouse. To the utter surprise of the New York art world, again he left the place in total darkness and named the exhibition Black and Blue.
When Mr. Hammons was invited to put together a show at the Crystal Palace in Madrid he had no idea what he was going to do. But once he missed his plane in Poland or was it Hungary, the idea hit him like a flash of light. He had to send a wire to Madrid to let them know that he would be arriving late. That in itself became his work of art, his performance piece. I received a call the following day, from David. He instructed me to gather as many artists and poets as I could ad have them be at Tribes on a certain day, and to make sure they bring their art and poetry with them.
It was havoc that day at Tribes. Artists and poets were lined up from the tiny office, through the gallery, into the living room, out of the back room, down the stairs, onto the stoop, and up and down the block -- awaiting the time to send their images and poems by fax to the Crystal Palace in Madrid where three fax machines had been hoisted up to the ceiling of the building so that the faxes could descend from around the world like messages from the heavens. The conductor -- composer Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris -- had been hired to perform on opening night. The music which had been looped was as eerie as the faxes descending from the sky. Outside the Crystal Palace thunder and lighting showered a downpour upon the surrounding space. It created a beauty which has yet to be surpassed.
Where was Mr. Hammons? Why, he was on several telephones and computers calling, emailing and generally directing his friends from around the world to continue with their faxing. This went on for a matter of months. At the shows ending over 10,000 faxes lay on the Crystal Palace floor. It took over a week to edit it down to 300. The 300 were boxed and packaged with a C.D. of the event and shipped of to museums and collectives around the world.
And there goes David Hammons -- the trickster, the shaman, putting one over on the art world again. Go figure.
by Steve Cannon